By Deb Murphy

The Owens River Trail has been awarded a $500,000 California River Parkways Grant, providing access to a 6.3-mile stretch of the river starting north of Lone Pine for kayak and canoes.

Canoers navigate the Owens River. All photos by Deb Murphy

Canoers navigate the Owens River.
All photos by Deb Murphy

In addition to the recreational opportunities, improvements to the channel in the form of removing tules choking off the flow should improve water quality, meeting the recommendations of the Lower Owens River Project consultants, according to Inyo Water Department project manager Larry Freilich.

Agreements still have to be worked out with both the DNR and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. During the site visit from California Department of Natural Resources staff, Polly Escovedo stressed the site control agreement with LADWP has to be in place; that process has already begun.

In an e-mailed message Aqueduct Manager Jim Yannotta stated: “As the land owner of the project area, we have concerns as to the potential impacts related to the project.  The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is meeting with Inyo County to work through the land use and other issues.”

Support for the project flows from Los Angeles to Mammoth, from LA River Expedition’s George Wolfe to Disabled Sports of the Eastern Sierra’s Laurel Martin. The handicapped-accessible component is key on many levels. According to Randy Short, on the advisory board of the Eastern Sierra Waterways Project, initiated by the late Dick Noles, and a California Department of Boating and Waterways commissioner, the latter will provide funding for wheelchair-bound paddler access. “The timing (of the grant award) is perfect,” Short said. “The commission will be meeting in the Eastern Sierra August 9 and will tour the Owens River” and similar handicapped access at Silver Lake.

During the site visit,” Short said, “Kevin (Carunchio, Inyo CAO) said to me ‘have you ever seen a project that nobody was against?’” Escovedo also noted the level of community support during the visit in late June.

For Wolfe, opening up the Owens represents another river added to “the recreation zone.”

That’s what Wolfe did for the Los Angeles River in 2008, kayaking the 51-mile stretch from the San Fernando Valley to Long Beach in 2008. That trip on a waterway commonly associated with concrete and rescues of small children and dogs during El Ninos classified the LA River as navigable and eligible for protection under the Environmental Protection Act. LA River Expeditions now conducts seasonal tours of rehabilitated portions of the river.

Wolfe is committed to playing a “meaningful and constructive” role in the Owens River project. “This is another river connected to our water, your water.” He sees it as a karmic pay back from Los Angeles to the Owens Valley.

Locals, like 5th District Supervisor Matt Kingsley, see it as another plus for the valley, another recreational draw.

Laura Beardsley, executive director of Friends of the Inyo, defines the project as a unique recreational experience, a connection between communities and a way to engage the public in on-going stewardship of the Owens River.

Independence resident Mary Roper and Martin of Disabled Sports of the Eastern Sierra see more than just recreation. “Most important,” said Roper referring to veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, “it’s something we can do to help these people.” Roper noted those with PTSD “find respite in nature, away from people.”

Martin spoke of the healing experience. “On the water, you can leave issues behind. It alleviates stressors, releases tension. The more time (those with PTSD) can relax, the better, the healthier they are,” she said. “This is major for the stakeholders, not only for what has been done but for what will be done.”

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