November 7, 2001: Class Notes


1991-2001 & Graduate School

Class Notes Profiles:

Poet leads a preservation group:
Lewis MacAdams ’66 aims to clean up L.A. River

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Poet leads a preservation group
Lewis MacAdams ’66 aims to clean up L.A. River

Lewis MacAdams ’66 used wire cutters to gain access to the Los Angeles River 15 years ago. Today, the poet and performance artist, who once created a totem with the river’s detritus, continues to hold the fence open and wave people in.

“God, this is filthy,” MacAdams says on a visit to the river, almost apologizing for the garbage as if it were pooling in his own living room. MacAdams, who founded Friends of the Los Angeles River in 1986, is trying to transform the watercourse into something closer to a riparian habitat and, in the minds of Angelenos, into, well, a river.

Seen from the freeway, which is how most people view it, L.A.’s river is a gutter that races the sweat of the city to the ocean, a 51-mile channel fortified against flooding by the Army Corps of Engineers and 17,000 pavers who needed work during the Depression. Most of the river’s bottom is paved, and its steep banks are made of concrete. Instead of rocks, the Los Angeles River has shopping carts. Empty beer bottles bob like ducks in the water.

MacAdams’s group of preservationists, along with other L.A. environmentalists, have celebrated major victories in the last year, securing a railroad yard along the banks for parkland and bringing about a landmark order from the Regional Water Quality Control Board to keep litter out of the river. Friends of the Los Angeles River is involved in a number of other projects, including leading clean-up missions and guiding nature walks. And MacAdams has commissioned gates to newly created bike paths that are more welcoming than the chain-link fence he and two friends clipped 15 years ago to stage their first performance-art piece. He visits the river almost daily to jog or show its “nonhuman life-forms” to his young children.

“It’s becoming a kind of classroom,” MacAdams says. With other, more established environmental groups now taking an interest in the river, his organization is looking for its place, choosing to focus on testing the water quality, developing a curriculum of river studies, and lobbying for converting all open space along the river into public land.

Massie Ritsch is a reporter for the Los Angeles Times.

By Massie Ritsch ’98

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