A gateway to the Ballona Creek Bike Path now offers a place to rest and enjoy the wetlands

By Gary Walker

The view from under the new park’s pergola Photos by Mia Duncans

The view from under the new park’s pergola
Photos by Mia Duncans

Students in Marina Del Rey Middle School’s environmental science magnet program frequently use the Ballona Creek Bike Path and nearby Ballona Wetlands as an outdoor classroom, often walking long distances as they study the flora and fauna of the state ecological reserve.

“But sometimes we get tired and we wish that there were more seats along the bike trail,” said America Marquez, an eighth grader at the middle school between Centinela Avenue and Culver Boulevard.

America got her wish last Friday when she and nearly 100 other students joined elected officials and representatives from county and state agencies for the opening of Ballona Creek Milton Street Gateway Park — a 1.2-acre park directly behind the school along Milton Street.

The $4.2-million park features interpretive displays, pedestrian pathways, decorative fencing, bike racks, a drinking fountain and those benches America wanted.

State Sen. Ben Allen (D- Santa Monica), who along with L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas spoke during the celebration, said he often visited the area because his brother lives nearby.

“He and I come out here a lot when he walks his dog, and I plan on being out here a lot more now,” Allen said.

The park’s landscape has been planted with drought-tolerant California native trees and shrubs. Sustainable irrigation features include permeable gabion walls and a future “green street” water retention feature that will extend outside the park and filter water before it drains into Ballona Creek.

“This reflects a new milestone for the community. It is one of the most significant undertakings of landscaping and recreation in many years,” Ridley-Thomas said.

Marina Del Rey Middle School Principal Lorraine Machado said the park is an asset for all of her students, not just those in the science magnet.

“We’re teaching our young people that our neighborhoods are more than just concrete. We’re teaching our students that it takes effort and leadership to take care of the environment,” she said.

The Baldwin Hills Conservancy, the Bay Foundation Restoration Commission and the California Coastal Conservancy contributed two-thirds of the funding necessary to create the park, using money created by the 2006 state water bond initiative (Proposition 84).

Los Angeles County also contributed $1.3 million to the project through county Proposition A funds.

Park construction was a joint effort led by the state Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority that
included assistance from state, county and city agencies.

Dash Stolarz, a spokeswoman with the authority, said the circumstances surrounding the acquisition of the park were somewhat unique.

“It was private property, and we don’t get many opportunities to buy land near Ballona Creek,” Stolarz said. “We were very lucky to be able to buy this property.”

America said the many amenities along the trail will make a big difference when her class is studying the environment.

“We’re happy that now we can appreciate nature without getting overheated,” she said.