Exploring Echo Park Lake

It’s been three years now since Echo Park Lake went through a makeover and the place continues to be a joy for residents and visitors.  For those who are not familiar with the Echo Park Lake, it is located in what was once considered the city’s “West End.”  It was a reservoir (called Reservoir No. 4) that was formed in 1868 by the Los Angeles Canal and Reservoir Co. that received its water from the L.A. River through a man made tributary stemming from Los Feliz.  When the city created the reservoir, it mistakenly did not purchase the land around it.  Building prospectors including a carriage maker named Thomas Kelley, capitalized on that mistake and bought up the land thinking people would love to purchase homes that had waterfront property. The only problem was the city had an easement that it could overflow the reservoir 40 feet above its current level at that time if it needed to do so. This would have inadvertently flooded properties and destroyed homes. Thus, the reservoir continued to exist but the property remained undeveloped.  To control the reservoir’s water level, a dam was created around Bellevue Avenue, however in 1891 it was determined to be a danger to residents who lived beyond the reservoir. As a result, the city and the original land prospectors cut a deal that the city would abandon the reservoir and remove the dam if the prospectors would give up some of their property to create a park around the water.  After years of tweaking, expansion and contrition, Echo Park Lake is what we see today.

It became a haven for residents over the years serving as a weekend park destination for families to picnic while kids battled each other in miniature boat racing competitions or fished.  A Victorian style bridge connected visitors to a small island on the lake and Lotus flower beds rested in the water on the west side of the lake.  Water flowers were quite popular towards the end of the 19th Century so when the flowers were planted, they added a unique element to Echo Park Lake that still stands today. The Lotus flowers growing in the lake are the largest colony in the Western United States.  Lotus flowers are unique and revered around the world taking on significant religious connotations amongst Buddhists and Hindus. For us, they are some of the most beautiful flowers that one will ever see. 

Through the years, the lake continued to be a great destination for families and individuals, however, with the passage of time, even the most beautiful of places can suffer.  When the trolley, which took residents from Echo Park to jobs in downtown Los Angeles was lifted and destroyed, a popular mode of transportation cut off access to visitors who didn’t drive.  Some years later in the 1950’s the new 101 Freeway would cut through portions of the East side of the park which would further contribute to its decline.  As the years went by, criminal activity in the park made it dangerous while the pollution around and in the lake made the water toxic.

In 2004, L.A. voters passed Proposition O which authorized the City of Los Angeles to fund projects (up to $500 million dollars) that prevent and remove pollutants from our regional waterways. This proposition along with Proposition K (A park restoration measure) were used in conjunction to rehabilitate Echo Park Lake.  In 2006, the lake was deemed to be an impaired/polluted waterway.  It was closed in 2011 and began a two year, 45 million dollar restoration that included having the lake drained and cleaned out of garbage, bicycles, skateboards and other dumped bulky items.  In addition, a wetlands feature was added to beautify the lake and provide a natural water improvement solution.  This included aquatic plants, which contribute to the control of algae growth, provide habitat for wildlife and develop a healthy lake ecology. Finally, the park’s signature Lotus flowers were replanted.

So, what is there to do at Echo Park Lake?  First and foremost, the Lake provides visitors with beautiful walkways around the lake that allow one to enjoy the foliage, views of downtown L.A and wildlife. The cement trail is frequently used by runners and weaves around different destinations that include the Lotus flower beds, a small island, boathouse, a visit to the “Lady of the Lake” Deco statute and tree covered areas, which are for picnicking and gatherings such drum circles. In addition, the lake is a great place for bird watching. As of the end of 2013, 28 species and 735 birds were counted according to EPIAN Ways, a quarterly publication published by the Echo Park Improvement Association.   Species spotted at the lake include Mallards, Ruddy Ducks, European Starlings, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, American Coot and Ring-necked Ducks. 

Visitors can also rent pedal boats on the lake through the Echo Park Pedal Boats Concession.  Pedal boat rentals (up to one hour) are $5.00 per child and $10.00 per adult.  They also offer canoe rides and gondola rides. All boats give visitors the opportunity to get close to wildlife and to the wetlands on the lake.  For the more adventurous boaters, you can take your pedal boat close to the lake’s water fountain as it shoots water up to 100 feet in the air.  On a breezy day, individuals can pedal directly into the spray and cool off.  Pedal boats rentals are offered 7 days a week from 9AM to ½ hour before Sunset.  Gondola and canoe rentals are Saturday and Sunday, 12Pm to 6PM. The concession is closed on Christmas, Thanksgiving Day and due to bad weather.  

The boathouse also has a coffeehouse called, Square One, which is located lakeside. Square One offers housemade pastries, Intelligentsia coffee and a selection of breakfast and lunch items.  It’s a great little place to kick back at and enjoy the views and people watch. The café also offers free Wi-fi.

For local anglers, Echo Park Lake is stocked by the LA Park system with rainbow trout every two weeks in the winter, spring and fall.  In addition, the lake has Catfish, Bluegill and Crayfish.  Anglers DO NOT need to get a fishing permit here as the City has deemed the lake as an open water facility.  Anglers are welcome to fish here on weekends, all year long.

The Pokemon phenom has reached Echo Park Lake. On a recent visit, we saw numerous people of all ages on their Iphones playing Pokemon GO.  The lake is loaded with Pokemon creatures and trainers and makes an excellent destination for mobile gamers in the area.

In addition, to visiting “The Lady of the Lake," an Art Deco statute located at the northwest end of the lake, - a new art installation was recently completed by Mexican artist Teresa Margolles. The piece, titled “La Sombra “The Shade"), is a part of the public art biennial, “Current: LA Water.”  The concrete monument pays tribute to the Angelenos killed in violent crimes over the course of 18 months.  Teresa and her team visited almost 100 locations and poured water over the spots where these Angelenos were killed. The water was collected in bottles and mixed into the concrete used to build the monument. 

If you are looking for an escape from urban life, Echo Park Lake is for you. It is located at 751 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90026. The main phone number is (213) 847-0929.