Plants, Life, Riverside is an ongoing interpretive project about plants in an urban setting. Today we learn about the river flowing through this urban landscape.
The city of Riverside has the name that it does because of its proximity to a river that flows through town. Unfortunately many area residents are unaware of the river’s presence and never linked the name of their city to this natural waterway.
Increasing public awareness about the river, increasing the public’s use of the river and increasing public stewardship of the river are the core objectives of the Santa Ana River Trust, an organization founded in 2011 under the fiscal sponsorship of the Riverside Land Conservancy.
How did the Santa Ana River disappear from public view?
The river became invisible for a few reasons, explains Amber Dobson, Program Director. Dobson first cites a long period during which development turned its back on the river. She also explains that in the early 1800s, a waste dump was built adjacent to the river. Compounding the river’s visibility problem is the fact that the Santa Ana River doesn’t match the public’s idea of what a river should be. Lined with concrete in certain sections and planted with large concrete energy dissipaters, the Santa Ana River doesn’t look like a river one might see in a more natural open space area.
Traveling alongside the river is the Santa Ana River Trail, a soon-to-be 110-mile bike path and pedestrian trail. I asked Dobson if people were more aware of the trail than the river and she said a small part of the community is aware of the recreational trail. While it is popular with cyclists and some joggers, they do not seem to be aware that it serves as a backdrop to a wildlife corridor.
Determining what the public knows and does not know about the river is a task that Dobson and colleague Rachel Hamilton address each year in a public survey. Their annual survey is posted on the Trust’s website and Facebook page each August and remains up through the end of the year. During this survey period, Dobson and Hamilton bring paper surveys to the trail so that trail users can also participate. Two years’ worth of public comments have revealed that the top concern of trail users is the availability of restroom facilities and safety.
For those of you not familiar with the Santa Ana River, the river has a bit of a negative reputation. The Trust is addressing this by holding family events, nature walks and fundraisers to educate the public about all issues concerning this waterway. They also organize public clean-up days with the group Keep Riverside Clean & Beautiful, an entity of the city’s Public Works department. The Trust is currently working with the Mission Inn Foundation to become involved in the construction of a soft trail, a trail for walkers and joggers that will be constructed along the paved trail. The soft trail will separate pedestrians and cyclists and is an effort to reduce the number of accidents that occur on the path.
Recently respondents have expressed interest in using the river for recreational purposes. Swimming is already a popular activity during spring and summer, as is fishing. Both activities have occurred for many years. There is new interest in kayaking, an activity that coincidentally, is a new recreational activity occurring in the Los Angeles River.
Interestingly, Dobson says that when she speaks about the Santa Ana River in Los Angeles, she receives a more positive reaction from L.A. residents than she does from residents in the Inland Empire. She credits the river revitalization efforts in the L.A. area with establishing a more river-minded community.
I asked Dobson what the biggest misperception is of the river and she said the public holds two misconceptions. The first being the river’s existence and the second being the quality of the water in the river. She said people have the perception that the water is very dirty. However it is actually cleaner than most people think. The Trust has performed water quality tests with Pomona College and Inland Empire Waterkeeper and results show the water is clean and safe for body contact.
Visit the River
Would you like to learn more about the Santa Ana River and visit it yourself?
Residents of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties can access the trail at several locations. Visit the website of the Santa Ana River Trail & Parkway to view the location of each trailhead and to learn more about the river.
Riverside residents can view the trail from many locations in the city. Dobson recommends three easy-access viewing locations where residents can experience the river and its natural environment:
- Walk to the top of Mt. Rubidoux for a panoramic view of the river.
- Visit Martha McLean/Anza Narrows Park to see the river and to access the Santa Ana River Trail.
- Views of the lush landscape growing along the river can be enjoyed at Rancho Jurupa Park.
Jurupa Valley Community Clean-up Event
Go to the Santa Ana River Trust website and click on “Programs.”
- Help the Santa Ana River Trust Create the Santa Ana River Conservancy
Supporting the creation of the Santa Ana River Conservancy will help preserve and restore the Santa Ana River. Use the sample letter or write your own explaining how important it is to you (a citizen living near the Santa Ana) to have state support for the longest river in Southern California. To learn more, see SB-1390 Santa Ana River Conservancy.
Connect with the Santa Ana River Trust
Contact the Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More About the Santa Ana Watershed
Learn about the Santa Ana Watershed Association