As I continue exploring my new hometown of Monrovia, I find myself drawn to places where the town’s urban fabric abuts against open and, yes, even wild spaces. As a longtime resident of the New York Metropolitan area, having weekend access to open space as a destination for decompression, contemplation, and re-connection with nature was critical to my well-being. Located in the foothills of the Angeles National Forest, I felt certain that opportunities for accessing ‘urban’ open space near and within Monrovia would be plentiful. Happily, I’ve not been disappointed.
In my ever widening exploration of neighboring blocks, I recently discovered the Sawpit Wash Trail. Crossing a ubiquitous channelized creek during an evening’s dusk, I was intrigued by the dim outline of what appeared to be a trail alongside the creek’s concrete span. A weekend exploration revealed the unexpected beauty of wildness of a ‘remnant’ space converted to a passive open-space corridor.
The Sawpit Wash Trail is not glamorous or sophisticated. As an unimproved recreation area it is, however, a significant resource to urban centers in several ways. As a leftover space – strangely shaped, underused areas all too familiar in urban environments – these are the frequent byproducts of the interface between differing land-use zones. The infrastructure of the Sawpit Wash Trail is, similarly a legacy of measures taken long ago by the Army Corp of Engineers, implemented to mitigate the detrimental effects of frequent flooding.
An end result of intersecting roads, rivers, streets, freeways, and railroad infrastructure, these lost spaces are often publicly accessible, and thereby provide a unique opportunity to link urban communities to pockets of open space. Similarly, proximity to infrastructure often means an active presence of wildlife – fauna and flora – which use these as corridors to cross to larger open spaces.
The Sawpit Wash Trail links the town’s two heavily used parks: Recreation Park and Monrovia’s Canyon Park – in a casual and indirect way. Perhaps because of the dense housing surrounding the space, the trail provides a surprising sense of openness and wildness, all within a 30 foot wide ‘park’ system. Shade from the canopies of oaks frame inspirational views of mountains – Downtown Los Angeles seems decades away. Walkers, bikers, hikers, joggers, equestrian riders, deer, dogs, cats, coyotes, hawks, skunks, possums, bats, birds and – oh yes – the bear I saw Sunday morning, frequent the trail. And the interface of the right-of-way corridor with the adjoining backyards of the community provides an enthusiastic jumble and display of the resilience of plant material.
More and more, these underused spaces designed and designated as dog or pocket parks – or left as passive spaces – are providing small, but significant open areas that activate and link urban communities.