Creating a Legacy: The Power of Nature


Volunteers from Arcadia High School, Rosemead High School, San Gabriel High School, Temple City High School, Pasadena City College, and St. Anthony's Catholic Church gathered along the Rio Hondo River at Peck Road Water Conservation Park at multiple events to help us realize the dream of creating an Emerald Necklace Rio Hondo Greenway, bringing the power of nature to urban communities.

Each Emerald Necklace Volunteer Stewardship Program event begins at nine in the morning with Amigos staff providing a brief history of and significance of the current site and providing site context in relation to the greater San Gabriel River watershed. Each volunteer has a part to play in the ecological restoration of the river corridors for current and future community benefit. According to Amigos’ field coordinator Marian Coensgen, "We want our volunteer events to be more than traditional tree planting events; we aim for them to be all-encompassing learning experiences where participants enjoy the significance of the Emerald Necklace vision they are contributing to." 

The trail we are working on begins at Peck Road Water Conservation Park located in unincorporated Arcadia and stretches one mile south to Lower Azusa Road along the Rio Hondo left east bank right of way. Peck is a vast 185-acre site of a former alluvial pebble quarry that was abandoned once the mining company exhausted the supply of pebbles from the groundwater. For many years, this area was underutilized and all but forgotten under the purview of the Los Angeles County Flood Control District.

Ten years ago, we started investing in transforming this postindustrial site into a meaningful nature sanctuary for communities most in need of green space and safe outdoor spaces. Each event we hold starts with site preparation before we plant new trees and shrubs, followed by a tree planting demonstration and information on roles the native plants play to support local birds and biodiversity. Emerald Necklace volunteers planted native sycamores, coast live oaks, and red bud trees, as well as buckwheat and sage plants along the Rio Hondo multi-use trail.

The events are hands on! One student exclaimed “I did not even know that I could plant a tree – I will come back often and see it grow.”  After an invigorating planting session, volunteers rest and enjoy views of the San Gabriel Mountains and Angeles National Forest as seen from the trail. As the habitat restoration process provides shelter and food for California birds, winter species - such as white-crowned sparrow, northern flicker, dark-eyed junco, and yellow-rumped warbler - appear in the vicinity of the greenway.

The SoCalGas Climate Champions Grant has supported us in bringing together the community to realize our longstanding dream of implementing a multi-objective Emerald Necklace greenway along the urban river corridors. Each event results in tangible progress on this goal. These events welcome community members who are stressed out by the pandemic to enjoy the cool shade around the lake, take in the striking vistas of Peck and of Angeles National Forest beyond, and to hear an ever-growing variety of bird songs. This natural infrastructure project benefits surrounding communities and regional trail users in many ways by reducing severe heat island effects, repurposing the former industrial site as a celebration of nature, increasing available recreation opportunities, proactively fighting climate change, and protecting biodiversity. The Emerald Necklace allows young leaders to actively engage and experience the importance of revitalizing our river corridors and creating a legacy green space network.