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DeForest Park Wetlands officially opens to public

The 34-acre open-space habitat restores freshwater and native plants to once-littered area

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Photos by Anita W. Harris | Signal Tribune
Strollers enjoy an elevated walkway with educational signage over a freshwater natural habitat in north Long Beach at the DeForest Park Wetlands, which city officials opened on June 30.

After almost 15 years of planning, fundraising and construction, the DeForest Park Wetlands in north Long Beach officially opened Saturday, June 30, with balloons, speeches and a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The June-gloom sky did not dim the celebratory mood as residents and city officials gathered at one of the 34-acre park’s entrances at DeForest and Chestnut avenues to mark its completion.

Attending officials included Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia, Vice Mayor and 9th District Councilmember Rex Richardson, District 8 Councilmember Al Austin and District 7 Councilmember Roberto Uranga.

“Anytime that you get to add 34 acres of open space to your community and open it up is really a special day,” Garcia said. “That’s a significant amount of open land and accessibility for the community.”

The wetlands, which borders the Los Angeles River, features trails, native plants and trees, an elevated walkway over a freshwater habitat with educational signage and a wrought-iron gate with natural elements designed by artist Brett Goldstone, who has made other such gates along the L.A. River.

Development of the park cost approximately $8.5 million, according to the Department of Parks, Recreation & Marine (PRM), most of which came from Los Angeles County Proposition A Funds and contributions from conservancies.

At the opening, Meredith Reynolds, parks development officer for PRM, thanked resident groups, city officials, funding agencies and Public Works Department planners, designers and construction teams for their efforts in bringing the project to fruition.

Garcia also acknowledged the advocacy efforts of local community groups– such as members of the Jane Addams Neighborhood Association in attendance– as well as officials supporting park development over the years.

He further thanked conservancy groups, including the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy and California State Coastal Conservancy, both of which contributed significantly to funding.

“I want to make sure we’re honoring, really, the decades of work [behind] the vision of this entire area, from the wetlands restoration to the work connecting to the river,” he said.

Garcia said that Long Beach and Los Angeles County officials have been envisioning linked greenspaces along the L.A. River since the early 2000s, to connect parks, rivers and neighborhoods, provide flood-control and create recreational opportunities.

He cited Long Beach’s RiverLink program as part of that effort. The program, approved by PRM in 2005, focuses especially on increasing open public space in the north and west areas of Long Beach after its study found such open space significantly lacking by a factor of 16 to one compared to the city’s east side.

According to its 2007 report, the RiverLink plan “provides a framework to connect west-side neighborhoods and greater Long Beach with the Los Angeles River greenway.”

Austin reinforced the place of the Deforest Park Wetlands in that larger scheme of greening the L.A. River.

“Along with the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, this project creates almost three miles of wetlands along the L.A. River,” he said. “This is a significant step in completing the Los Angeles River Greenway, to creating a continuous 51-mile recreational greenway with flood-control capacities along the L.A. River from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley.”

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia (center), flanked by city officials and residents, cuts a ribbon on June 30, marking the opening of the DeForest Park Wetlands in north Long Beach.

Noting that he sits on a working group for the Lower Los Angeles River, Austin said that Long Beach is “ahead of the game” compared with the other 13 cities that border the river.

“I can’t say enough how important this is, and what an example this is for many other cities who are looking at what we are doing here in Long Beach as an example of how to program open space along the L.A. River,” he said.

Austin also pointed to the value of that connection locally as well.

“This connects so many neighborhoods in north Long Beach,” he said. “[And] so many of our residents will have the opportunity to have this beautiful, serene space right in their back yards.”

Richardson also emphasized the aesthetic value of the wetlands to local residents.

“Most people remember the state of what this was,” he said. “They weren’t happy with the activities that were happening in this space that was adjacent to a really beautiful, well kept neighborhood.”

He said the wetlands provides opportunities for children and families to connect to nature and learn more about conservation, with public trails, educational signage all the way south to the Dominguez Gap Wetlands, as well as walking, biking, bird-watching and equestrian opportunities.

Richardson noted that non-native trees were removed as part of the restoration effort and that storm drains will improve the cleanliness of water discharged into the L.A. River.

“Historic habitat types such as vernal pools, native grasslands, coastal scrubs and Oak-Sycamore woodlands will develop [in the wetlands],” he said.
After the ceremony, Austin told the Signal Tribune that the project took so many years to complete because the planning process was involved, requiring one to two meetings every month.

“Like any large public-works project, it goes through machinations, funding gaps, working to find extra funding,” he said. “It requires constant attention and then [there are] unforeseen obstacles.”

As an example, Austin said that after breaking ground and kicking off construction with a certain budget, the project very quickly went over by thousands of dollars just for cleanup, which included biohazard-waste removal.

“It was quite a challenge,” he said, looking out over the restored natural landscape.

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DeForest Park Wetlands officially opens to public