SANTA ANA (AP) — Conservationists are turning their attention to the restoration of the Santa Ana River in Southern California after recently approved legislation established a program to create a network of trails and river-bottom parks that could eventually connect scenic spots from Big Bear Lake to Huntington Beach.
The measure, sponsored by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, takes its lead from a 17-year-old Coastal Conservancy program focused on bettering public access to open spaces in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
Correa ultimately wants to build 30 miles of trail that would complete a 110-mile hiking and biking path to link the parks and bring new visitors to restaurants and shops in nearby downtowns.
“People want their streams back — all of them, including the Santa Ana,” said Stephen Mitchell, a science librarian and co-coordinator of the nonprofit University of California, Riverside Friends of the Santa Ana River.
The Santa Ana River begins with snow melt and natural springs near Big Bear Lake and flows for 96 miles to reach the Pacific Ocean. Twenty-six of those miles traverse heavily populated Orange County, but much of the riverbed is encased in concrete for use as a flood control channel and flows through commercial and industrial zones with little green space.
The river is part of the largest stream system in the region that covers about 2,700 square miles in parts of four fast-growing, urban counties: Orange, San Bernardino, Riverside and Los Angeles.
More than 5 million people live within a half-mile of Santa Ana River’s banks or the banks of one of its tributaries — a population expected to double by 2050, according to the legislation.
Proponents of greening the river — formerly known in Orange County as Flood Control Channel EO1 — point to other urban waterways, including the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, as examples of how riverbeds can provide green space.