Californian’s Want Wetlands

Jan 08, 2009 by Lisa Newton

At the turn of the century, during the rainy season, Ballona Creek and several other small streams would be transformed into torrents as they carried the collected water from the Los Angeles watershed area to the Santa Monica Bay. It would flood large areas of the Los Angeles basin, and the creek’s course shifted as flooding carved new paths through the land.

During the 1930’s, the Army Corps of Engineers carved it into a large channel and lined all but its last couple of miles with concrete to speed the water’s flow to the ocean. An extensive system of drains, mostly underground, was built to funnel storm water into the creek. While these projects were effective in accomplishing the task at hand, the transformation of the creek from a natural waterway into a massive storm drain has broken a link in the ecological chain and severed the connection between the community and the land on which it resides.

Ballona Creek trail entrance

With about 95% of Southern California’s original coastal wetlands have been destroyed or degraded, open space is a valuable and rare commodity in urban environments – especially in Los Angeles. The fact that California voters approved the purchase and rehabilitation of this area showed that the Californian’s want their environmental resources preserved.

The Ballona Wetlands are part of a 1,087-acre property that industrialist Howard Hughes used for aircraft production and testing.

Ballona Creek walking trail

In recent decades, the area has been degraded by manufacturing, farming and dredge spoils. Yet it has managed to remain a habitat for a number of endangered and threatened species, including the California brown pelican and the Belding’s savannah sparrow.

The idea that this land could ever be preserved and restored for wildlife purposes would have been a complete shock to Howard Hughes and to many other leaders in Los Angeles over the years. It represents a shift in attitude and a shift in Los Angeles’ vision of itself and its future.

Today, Ballona Creek is a nine-mile-long flood control channel. It drains the Ballona Creek watershed, which covers approximately 130 square miles: from the Santa Monica mountains on the north to the Baldwin Hills on the south, and from the Harbor Freeway (110) on the east to the Pacific Ocean.

Work continues on Ballona Creek, to the bike path, to the landscaping, and continued active volunteer work by several organizations, Ballona Creek Renaissance and Ballona Institute.


The section I visited is at the end of the creek bordering the marina. Riding my bike, I headed for the trailhead. Surprisingly, bikes are not allowed on this particular part of the trail, so I walked my bike at this juncture. Standing at the end on the man-made platform, I was amazed at what I was seeing, a wetland in the city. It was quite an accomplishment of the non-profit groups mentioned above to talk the various municipalities into saving as much of it as possible and of course the voters who made it happen to allow the State to originally purchase and rezone these crucial environmental resources.

Brimming with small wildlife, Ballona Creek is a fantastic place to see nature up close and personal. Today I only had time to spend about a half an hour here, but I will definitely be going back to walk the whole trail. And often–indeed it will be sooner rather than later.

Me and my reflection

Do you have nature in your backyard? Well, Ballona Creek isn’t exactly in my backyard (although I would love to own one of those houses), but it’s only about 20 minutes away.

That’s the beauty of Travelin’ Local; everything is only a stone’s throw away.

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10 Responses to “Californian’s Want Wetlands”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Wow, it sure sounds like a huge undertaking to restore the Ballona wetlands. This post and your beautiful pictures makes me want to see it really bad. Can I come for a visit? :)

    Jennifer’s last blog post..Why Everyone Else is Always Wrong


  2. LisaNewton says:

    Jennifer, you’re welcome to come anytime. I only touched on a small part of this, so I’m really looking forward to investigating it further.


  3. sarah says:

    love the picture of the trail…


  4. Stacey / Create a Balance says:

    I used to run watershed education programs, so I appreciate your story. I live 10 minutes from Lake Michigan and take advantage of viewing nature all year round. Just a few weeks ago we had a snowy owl visit the neighborhood. Bliss.

    Stacey / Create a Balance’s last blog post..Celebrate Your Life (and Oprah’s Best Life Series) Friday! 01.09.09


  5. Rahul says:

    This is really good. A place for nature so that we have a peace of mind. Keep it up.

    One suggestion though, i think you’ve gotta optimize your images. Cheers.

    Rahul’s last blog post..Band and Politics


  6. LisaNewton says:

    @Sarah – Thank you……………….:)

    @ Stacey – Lake Michigan is beautiful, and having a short term visitor is even better. I’d love to see some pictures if you have any.

    @Rahul – Thank you. And I’ve checked out optimizing my images. The next post should load faster.


  7. Frank Levangie says:

    Hi Lisa, This came as a surprise because I forgot I was on your website as well as about 500 others. I think I need a secretary to keep track of all the websites I connect to. I actually have to establish files for almost everyone and everything I bump into on line @ this address:……. I also have a file on you and many others in my “favorites”. ;-0
    God bless this Macbook Pro because it’s a lifesaver and so easy to use.
    By the way, feel free to use any of my photos in my many albums. Be sure to click the different sizes at the bottom of each picture.


  8. “Postcards from Ballona” | Travelin' Local says:

    [...] of my Travelin’ Local bike ride alongside the Ballona Creek Bike Path today, to add to my Californian’s Want Wetlands, series about this ecological miracle inside our busy [...]

  9. Riding the Ballona Creek Bicycle Trail | Travelin' Local says:

    [...] Riding the Ballona Creek bike trail is something I never tire of. A round trip is a fine-ride, full of ups and downs, and sights to behold at each overpass. If you plan on riding the trail, be sure to have a map for various entry points. Because there have been a few assaults on the trail, it’s best to ride with a friend, which also increases your fun factor at the same time. [...]

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