By Christopher Nyerges
I spent a recent Sunday afternoon at an oasis — a four-acre parcel of trails, native plants and colorful interpretative signage, tended by volunteers and visited by equestrians, families and people looking for exercise and relaxation.
This oasis — open to all — is the Arroyo Seco-South Pasadena Woodland and Wildlife Park, located where York Boulevard turns into Pasadena Avenue, just east of the 110 Freeway.
The park is worth your while. It is an area transformed by people who love it and want to share it.
Back in the 1970s, I used to lead nature walks into the part of the Arroyo Seco where the park is now situated. I liked its abandoned and wild quality and I was able to show students some native plants and talk about how the indigenous people used them. There was also an abundance of introduced, exotic trees and plants, and most of these also had their stories.
But over the years, I stopped taking students, as the area became a local dumping ground and a convenient spot for homeless camps.
That all began to change in the late 1990s, when South Pasadena resident Barbara Eisenstein and fellow naturalists saw the potential in this pocket of wildness. When South Pasadena contemplated selling the land, the group managed to secure a $250,000 appropriation from the State of California to preserve it as a nature park.
The Woodland and Wildlife Park became a reality in 2004. Shortly thereafter, Eisenstein, a member of the South Pasadena Natural Resources Commission, started Friends of Nature Park, a volunteer group she leads to this day.
The volunteers work with city officials and the local non-profit, South Pasadena Beautiful, to ensure proper stewardship for the park. Their work includes doing most of the park maintenance, plantings and signage.
The area’s former degraded condition, overwhelmed with weeds and homeless encampments, is a distant memory. On my recent visit, I found it peaceful and engaging. I could take a good deep breath there (even though there was no entirely escaping the roar of cars on the freeway a mere 50 yards or so away).
The park is still a work in progress. Eisenstein is currently focused on a one-acre piece of land that was added to the park’s original acreage in 2011. “I am hoping to help the city acquire a grant to create walnut/oak woodland and to reduce the flow of urban runoff into the Arroyo Seco channel,” she said.
Though COVID has slowed the normal volunteer effort, you can watch for future clean-ups, planting parties and other events here and at the Facebook page of the Friends of Nature Park. You can also reach Eisenstein at email@example.com.
Donations to support the park can be made through South Pasadena Beautiful at southpasbeautiful.org/nature-park.
Christopher Nyerges is an educator who has written nearly two dozen books on the outdoors and natural history. More information can be found at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.
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