By Darlene Donloe
BALDWIN HILLS — After years of planning and months of construction, the pedestrian bridge over La Cienega Boulevard, the last remaining stretch of the Park to Playa Trail, opened with fanfare Oct. 29.
The 13-mile trail, built in seven different segments over the past 10 years, connects the Baldwin Hills Parklands to the Pacific Ocean via the Stocker Corridor, Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, Stoneview Nature Center, the Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook and Ballona Creek Bike Path. It represents the first regional trail in South Los Angeles and the entire second supervisorial district of Los Angeles County.
Dressed in workout gear, county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, accompanied by his wife, Avis Ridley-Thomas, and leaders from the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, the Department of Public Works, the Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority, other partnering agencies and local dignitaries, marked the occasion with a socially distanced ribbon-cutting ceremony and inaugural hike across the bridge.
Ridley-Thomas called the completion of the trail, “A tribute to our highest aspirations and our values, a reflection of our best selves.”
“When we broke ground on this trail eight months ago, the world looked entirely different,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Despite this, some things remain the same, or perhaps have become even more important. The value of human connection and opportunities to experience the beauty of our natural environment has become paramount to our well-being. Today, we celebrate the Park to Playa Trail, which represents the best of what public agencies can do when they come together to create special spaces and experiences for our community.”
“2020 has been a challenge for all of us,” said David McNeill, executive officer of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy. “There is a lot of work to be done within society, but we can celebrate today’s work right now. Not only will this connection provide a safe elevated crossing for pedestrians and bicycles, it creates an opportunity for wildlife to visit both ridgelines which increases the region’s biodiversity.”
McNeill, who suggested the pedestrian bridge be named after Ridley-Thomas, said while the ongoing expansion of Baldwin Hills Parklands has brought a lot of openings, the anticipation from the public for this bridge has been higher than he’s seen in years.
“It’s a difficult process to get a project like this on the ground,” he said. “The vision that is the Baldwin Hills Park to Playa path has come to fruition through hard work, effort and spending. Bottom line, we’re we’re connecting people, we’re connecting nature, we’re bringing it all together for one big park experience. We’re just grateful the final piece of Park to Playa has come to fruition.”
“Today we celebrate progress,” said Norma Garcia, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation. “This is the new, iconic, but symbolic bridge. This is the people’s bridge. The Park to Playa Bridge and Trail will become a destination for hikers and nature lovers; a recreational route for the community.
Cris Lutz and her family drove from Highland Park to hike the trail on the opening weekend.
“My husband is a huge enthusiast of public parks and openings,” Lutz said. “We’re delighted that county leadership has invested in the community. We need to be around other people and nature, but in a safe physically distanced way, so we’re thrilled.
“I haven’t been hiking in a while, so we were just delighted to be able to get out and enjoy some fresh air through our masks,” she added.
Now that it’s complete, visitors will be able to hike 13 miles to the ocean with a connecting point to the Stoneview Nature Center. The trail will provide pedestrian access to parkland facilities along its path including Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area, Norman Houston Park, Ruben Ingold Park, Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, Culver City Park, Ballona Creek, Ballona wetlands and the Pacific Coast.
The trail, in its entirety, was a $23 million investment for Baldwin Hills and surrounding areas. An additional $20.5 million was invested in new amenities along the trail, including the creation of the Stoneview Nature Center, Milton Street Park and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Tree Grove, as well as the transformation of the community center at Hahn Park into a state-of-the-art interpretive center in addition to a variety of other accessibility, habitat restoration, and recreational improvements within the parklands.
“As the county’s builder, L.A. County Public Works is constantly looking for ways to improve a community’s quality of life through investments in public infrastructure,” said Mark Pestrella, director of the Public Works Department. “Nearly 60% of workers on this project are from the community, which means the bridge has both connected communities and created local jobs.”
Ridley-Thomas worked in partnership with the county Departments of Parks and Recreation and Public Works, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy, the Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority, and the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to complete the trail, which spans multiple jurisdictions, including the cities of Culver City and Los Angeles, and state parks property.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributing Writer Cynthia Gibson contributed to this story.