Transforming Communities, Lives Through Los Angeles County Parks

Los Angeles Center Corpsmembers work together to construct a rock retaining wall near the entry to Peck Road Water Conservation Park in Arcadia, CA.

At the end of a seemingly never-ending string of salvage yards, warehouses and strip malls is an unexpected pearl. A literal breath of fresh air in the form of green trees, manicured trails, and tranquil ponds.

Peck Road Water Conservation Park is an urban escape increasingly found in L.A.’s east county. Thanks to Amigos de Los Rios and the strong backs of Corpsmembers from the California Conservation Corps, this abandoned rock quarry transformed into a lush park newly planted with bright flowers and rock formations.

“I really love the work that we’re doing and that we’re making a difference,” said CCC Los Angeles Center Corpsmember Karla Gonzalez.

The park is a foundational element in what’s called the Emerald Necklace – a string of parks and trails connecting the San Gabriel mountains to L.A.’s south coast.

It is one of the 35 park projects Rio de los Amigos – the steward of the necklace plan – has spent the last 15 years developing in collaboration with the CCC.

“It looked like a dusty moonscape, the soil had no plants in it,” said Claire Robinson, managing director of Amigos de Los Rios. “At Peck, we’re trying to show you can go from a blighted, scary environment to these amazing qualities that can support walking, biking, and school kids coming to just watch the birds. The transformation the CCC has made turned it into a more welcoming community-based space.”

Just as the park is transformed, the CCC also transforms lives – the lives of Corpsmembers. The state-run program offers 18-25-year-old men and women a year of paid work on environmentally focused projects. When they exit the Corps, they are work ready and are often hired by the very governmental agencies and non-profits who they worked with on projects while in the CCC.

“There is a lot of work that we’ve done here,” said Gonzalez. “I have learned so much here at this park, it’s really like my foundation in the CCC.”

Along the park’s entrance, Gonzalez carefully positioned and packed rocks to build a retaining wall to prevent debris runoff during heavy rain.

Los Angeles Center Corpsmember Karla Gonzalez works to build a rock retaining wall along the driveway at Peck Road Park in Arcadia, CA.

Water conservation is one of the key enhancements Corpsmembers installed. Resurfacing the park’s entry path now lets water seep through the trail without damaging it. And, a rock garden helps hold and distribute water for native, drought-tolerate plants.

“We’ve planted more than 300,” Gonzalez said. “We’re not just letting the water run-off into the ocean, we’re actually collecting it and using it for the trees and the plants.”

Corpsmembers will add more trails and plants in the coming years. They put in long hours, in the heat and rain, while learning they are part of a bigger project to improve the health, transportation and lives of east county residents.

“We consider the necklace as a state of mind,” Robinson said. “Whenever you have open space it can serve as a water resource, recreation, habitat for birds, and highlight natural resources. Every public space, we believe, should be enhanced with these sustainable features.”

The Emerald Necklace (based on a 1930s era plan) seeks to enhance more than 400 existing parks throughout the county, adding park space to every public school.

“We spend time talking to the Corpsmembers about the bigger picture,” Robinson said. “It’s just infectious to have the energy of the California Conservation Corps working on these projects.”