Healthy 'Hoods: Leimert Park’s Hidden Passage to Health

The Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook looks to be little more than oversized steps up a steep, rugged hill.

But pass by this new park on the outskirts of Culver City and you’ll often see a line of people ascending and descending. It’s so popular that parking is a problem. Still people come from miles around for the challenge of climbing up the Aztec like pyramid and the 360 degree views of the city.

Much closer to Leimert Park is a rustic trail with great views of downtown L.A. and a steep climb for a moderate workout.

On the Stocker Corridor Trail that winds its way almost two miles from Presidio Drive to La Brea Avenue,3 you can see hawks and falcons, poppy flowers, lizards and beautiful views of the Los Angeles skyline.

The dirt trail, on a sliver of land between Stocker Street at the bottom and View Park homes on the ridge, rises above the asphalt, just a few blocks from the hum of the busy intersection at Crenshaw and Martin Luther King boulevards. You never have to worry about parking and there are no traffic jams on the trail. In fact, not that many people use it, or even know it’s there.

Lori Webster, who’s lived in Leimert Park for four years and used to make the trek to Runyon Canyon in Hollywood, had no idea the Stocker Corridor Trail was a mile from her house until last month.

“I had seen people walking around up there before and I had just figured it was people who lived on the hill walking down from their backyards,” says Webster, a documentary filmmaker and USC student. “There aren’t any signs. I think people in the area would definitely be interested because I see people jogging in the neighborhood all the time. I’m sure they would enjoy that trail.”

While it has been shown that populations who live near a park are healthier, for the residents to use the park for recreation and exercise they need to know the park is there.

How does the park in Culver City become a destination rivaling the dunes in Manhattan Beach, the steps in Santa Monica and urban hiking of Runyon Canyon in Hollywood, while Stocker Corridor is overlooked by many of its own nearby residents?

In large part because the finishing touches that were planned on Stocker never took place. (Read the entire Stocker Corridor Plan).

There are no signs and there is no marker at the eastern edge where the park begins near the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza mall.

The entrance is nothing more than a dirt trail going up a hill. The Stocker Corridor Trail was supposed to have a wider path markers along the trail, stretching areas with boulders and gravel.

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Budget cuts kept it simple, says David McNeilll, the executive director of the Baldwin Hills Conservancy.

Perhaps too simple to let most people know the pastoral trail is a maintained walking path.

Those deficiencies keep a park from being welcoming both physically and mentally, says Doug Campbell, who teaches the history of landscape architecture at USC and designs parks in the Los Angeles area.

“You want to cross a threshold, through a gate or a portal,” Campbell says. “It’s like a story. It separate you from the outside world, like a church or a school. The best parks have a destination that draws one in, and an edge as the enclosure helps users feel safe.”

That the Stocker Corridor Trail or the Baldwins Hills Scenic Overlook even exist is a bit of a miracle. Both were saved from imminent development in service to a visionary multi-million dollar plan – connecting Crenshaw to the Ocean.

When the Park to Playa vision was announced in 2000, it sounded all but impossible – a seamless 13-mile trail to the Pacific Ocean through five jurisdictions.

The trail now begins just west of Crenshaw Boulevard and follows the Stocker Corridor Trail, which one day soon will connect with Ruben Ingold Park in View Park. At Five Points – where La Brea Avenue, Overhill Drive and Stocker Street converge – the path crosses over to the city’s Norman O. Houston Park. Cross La Brea and you’re in the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. The path dead ends at La Cienega Boulevard for now.

But just a few hundred yards away past the oil booms and derricks you can see the recently opened Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook. That will take you to Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City and the Ballona Creek Bicycle Path, which leads, without interruption, to the Ballona Wetlands and the beach.

The Baldwin Hills Regional Conservation Authority, created through a joint powers agreement between the county and the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, created the plan and is working to finish it.

Today the completion is tantalizingly close.

Perhaps when the Park to Playa trail is completed, the finishing touches will be added to the Stocker Corridor Trail and more residents will discover this hidden passageway to health.

In the fifth installment, we'll look at practical and possible solutions that are possible when you expand your idea of what a park can be.

Click to read the entire Healthy 'Hoods series:

Part 1 - Healthy 'Hoods: Obesity is a problem in Los Angeles, but South LA suffers more.

Part 2 - Healthy 'Hoods: How do you build a healthy community?

Part 3 - Healthy 'Hoods: Getting Outdoors in South Los Angeles.

Part 4 - Healthy 'Hoods: Leimert Park’s Hidden Passage to Health.

Part 5 - Healthy 'Hoods: Greening South Los Angeles.

This project was made possible through the support of the USC Annenberg Health Journalism Fellowship program, funded by the California Endowment.

--- and SoCal Connected partnered to produce this series.

Healthwise is a SoCal Connected series examining how community and environment can impact your health. Reports are made possible by a grant from The California Endowment. VIEW THE FULL SERIES »


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