It’s been a great winter for Pasadena’s backyard wilderness, the Arroyo Seco. Steeped in lush green, the local trails crisscrossing the tributary basin emit scents of sage and lilac, and, if you keep climbing, you’ll find a panorama of soft buckwheat hills, interspersed with California’s deep orange poppies and mustard brush, a brook bubbling below. You’ll see hawks overhead, darting lizards and, if you’re lucky, a red and black coast mountain king snake sunning itself on a nearby rock.
These are the sights and experiences the One Arroyo Foundation wants to share with more Pasadena residents, for generations to come.
The newly formed, soon-to-be nonprofit organization recently kicked off efforts to raise $7 million to help unify the 900 acres of urban forest and its spotty trails, which run all the way down Pasadena’s westernmost edge, from the Arroyo Seco headwaters in Angeles National Forest to the Hahamongna area and the Lower Arroyo, descending to the Los Angeles River. One Arroyo is looking to provide about 22 miles of continuous trails with improved grading and proper signage to help hikers find their way and experience the great outdoors, just five minutes from home.
“We are looking to create a new paradigm, if you will, a really comprehensive way to maintain, enhance and preserve the Arroyo Seco and its surroundings,” said One Arroyo Foundation President Dan Rothenberg, who’s been working in conjunction with the city of Pasadena to find a cohesive management approach.
“We look at it as a conservancy of public and private funding, similar to what has been created for Central Park in New York City, to improve the trails already there, helping with some connections, building trails in other sites, and helping to beautify the area in general, albeit only in keeping with the natural habitat,” he said.
Rothenberg, who grew up in Pasadena, has fond memories of playing in the Arroyo as a child, fomenting his imagination, apart from playing soccer at the AYSO fields at the Rose Bowl and running the surrounding mile loops. Now with two elementary school-age children himself, he sees the One Arroyo as preserving a legacy for them and, someday, their children.
“Growing up in this area, living near the Arroyo, it certainly has shaped my view of what Pasadena is as a city, how the [park] can become a bigger part of that, and I really do take it as my responsibility to help make sure that happens,” he noted.
Pasadena city leaders have known for some time of the Arroyo’s general disrepair and expressed frustration over funding gaps. With many of the trail segments off the banks of the Arroyo forged a good century ago, they are overgrown in many areas, if never completed to begin with. A motivated hiker might try to follow anyway, slogging through some thick underbrush, only to emerge near the side of the freeway.
“There are definitely parts right now where you suddenly stop and wonder where to go next,” Rothenberg said. “We are looking at procuring funding and administering that funding, working on behalf of the city, independently, and making sure we are putting the funds toward projects that are prudent and can be guaranteed longevity.”
The foundation was born of the recommendation made by the Arroyo Advisory Group, a task force formed in 2017 at the behest of Mayor Terry Tornek after many public discussions concerning future plans and stewardship for the Arroyo Seco. The AAG, in turn, formed four committees to pursue the objectives of developing a vision supported by the community, supporting projects that would inspire, and creating a financing model to leverage limited city dollars with new revenue streams and grants, both public and private.
The AAG also oversaw a survey disseminated throughout Pasadena, which garnered 2,652 responses and confirmed there was community interest in improving and maintaining amenities, especially trails. The One Arroyo survey netted a 70% approval for improved or new amenities, including restrooms, trails and paths, habitat restoration, bike trails or places just to relax.
Former four-term Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard, who was a co-chair on that first AAG task force, and continues as the foundation’s CFO, said it became glaringly apparent that there was an urgent need to take action, assist the city in creating a cohesive vision and begin working toward the ultimate goal of assuring preservation and enhancement of the Arroyo.
The City Council unanimously endorsed the approach and the creation of the One Arroyo Foundation nonprofit.
“With the city’s many needs, its general fund budget for parks and open space has traditionally been limited, in good times and bad,” said Bogaard, noting the committee knew a nonprofit could pursue other funding possibilities, from public grant programs created by the state and the county and from generous private donors. “As Southern California becomes more urban, the natural resources of the Arroyo, particularly Hahamongna and the Lower Arroyo, become more precious. Its 900 acres — like the 850 acres of New York City’s Central Park — offer a respite from the pressures of our urban lifestyle that is a rare treasure.”
Bogaard invoked Teddy Roosevelt, who visited the Arroyo in 1911. “[He] said, ‘This Arroyo would make one of the greatest parks in the world.’ … The One Arroyo Foundation intends to live up to this great legacy.”
As with most topics that raise Pasadena residents’ passions, there has been controversy surrounding what are the area’s highest priorities, and what the newly rebuilt trails might look like in completion.
“We went through a lot of different plans as to how those trails might look; it’s such a broad spectrum of things to be done and dollars to be spent,” Rothenberg recalled. “There was a big discrepancy. … How much money would you like to spend, and how much can you spend?”
On the low end, the 22-mile trail-unification plan might cost $10-$15 million, he noted, laughing ironically at the big difference. “You can go up to $75 million if you’d like some bathrooms along the way,” he wryly added. “But I don’t think we’ll ever get to that level of fundraising.”
For now, the One Arroyo has a focused, singular goal: to raise $5 million to begin trail improvements, and set aside another $2 million for the creation of an endowment, setting in motion a fund to protect in perpetuity the maintenance of Pasadena’s urban park.
It’s had widespread support from Los Angeles County, which has contributed $2.5 million to the Army Corps of Engineers, so the group can restart its large-scale habitat restoration study for the Arroyo, which could also have “profound long-term benefits,” according to Tornek in his state of the city address earlier this year. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger also committed half a million dollars in Proposition A park funding to the “demonstration” trails project, the initial phase of trail improvement. That initial phase will create the “Woodlands Loop” and “Streamside Walk.”
“We are grateful to the county for all its support to this priceless resource,” Tornek said during his speech. “The One Arroyo effort endeavors to bring awareness to the work by the [AAG], and others, to restore the legacy of Pasadena’s historic Arroyo Seco and unite all three areas of the Arroyo — Hahamongna, Central Arroyo and Lower Arroyo — under a singular vision.”
To learn more about the One Arroyo Foundation and its efforts, including volunteering, programming and donating, visit onearroyo.org.