The first access area to the Ballona Creek Bike Trail Improvement Project — a bike path that extends approximately eight miles through the Cities of Los Angeles and Culver City and connects with the Beach Bike Path in Playa del Rey — was dedicated last week.

The project is part of a larger effort to improve the area surrounding Ballona Creek and its adjacent wetlands and link Ba-llona Creek and the Baldwin Hills areas.

“Every element of government is here in some form or another, to witness the dedication of the new Ballona Creek Bike Trail Gateway,” said Joe Edmiston, executive director of the Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority during ceremonies Thursday, August 18th, at the new entrance to the bike path at Centinela Avenue.

The California State Parks Recreational Trails Program funded a $200,000 grant, Supervisor Yvonne Burke and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority allocated $200,000 to match the grant and Congresswoman Jane Harman secured $50,000 in federal Housing and Urban Development Funds for the project.

Also involved in the project is a collaborative agreement between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Commission.

Passage of state park bonds and water quality measures in 2000 made significant state funds available for grant requests to improve environmental, aesthetic and recreational aspects of Ba-llona Creek, including support for native plant and animal habitat.

Two more accessway projects are under way and supporters of six more access areas are still in need of funding.

Those attending the ceremony expressed hope that eventually landscaping will grow along the bike path from the ocean east to Kenneth Hahn Park in Baldwin Park.

The greenery is in its early stages. Landscaper Philip Castiglia has planted native trees — coast live oak and California sycamore — shrubs and smaller plants.

Spots of wild lilac and blue salvia now lend color to mulch held by a knee-high serpentine cobble stone wall of San Gabriel River rock.

Decomposed granite creates golden-brown pathways with the “high desert” stone-paved area — a radical change from chain link fence, bare dirt and abandoned cars.

Visitors enter the newly dedicated rest stop access through a steel gate that embodies shapes of a landscape of water and mountains with egrets and a pelican perched on real rocks embedded in the frame. Sculptor Brett Goldstone designed, fabricated and installed the gate. (See photo, page 2.)

“This bikeway is so important to Southern California,” Edmiston said. “Things are getting built.

“The California State Parks has many programs for development and more proposals than one could count. This one was selected [for grant funding] because it has all the best advantages.”

Project manager Chuck Arnold admitted that the project is challenging because of the various jurisdictions involved and the many permits and approvals required from the jurisdictions along the 400-foot-long by 18-foot-wide swath adjacent to Ballona Creek.

Arnold said he chose the Centinela location for the gateway because:

“It’s a unique space there. Most stretches along the creek are solid concrete.

“The spot at Centinela offered an opportunity for a ten-foot-wide space adjacent to the creek. We could make a large original entry to the bike and trail path.

“All along the creek and the LA River is barbed wire with ‘no trespassing’ signs that read ‘keep out, we don’t want you here.’

“None of the paths are improved; they’re pretty much as they were a long time ago. Our purpose was to make people feel they can go there.

“Because of the land tenure it was a special challenge. This particular stretch of Ballona Creek had not been surveyed before. It turned out the property line was much further away from the creek than anticipated and encompassed Milton Street.

“The chain-link fence running adjacent and parallel to the creek pathway was not on the county property line. This meant there was a much wider chunk of property potentially available for the gateway greening.”

Arnold worked with the four owners of the houses along Milton Street and unincorporated county area so that the owners could keep the street, yet allow use for trail parking and the widened greenway.

The added greenery revitalized the bikeway trail for the homeowners and the public.

“Every time we put a syca-more tree in the ground, ultimately, when the first bird lands, we’re doing habitat work,” said Arnold. “A little improvement makes a big visual difference — and with wildlife and animals.”

Adjacent parcels along the trail are in Playa Vista and the Ballona Wetlands.

Officials of Playa Vista and those seeking to restore the wetlands are working on a “big plan” of their own for their stretch.