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Volunteers Help Revive LA's Concrete River

The Los Angeles River is a concrete drainage channel through much of its 80-kilometer length. It channels waste-water from storm drains and has become a receptacle for much of the city's trash. But, the river is slowly being restored to its natural state with the help of volunteers, who take part in an annual clean-up.

Thousands of volunteers turned out on a recent weekend to remove the trash that has been deposited by winter rain storms. The Los Angeles River was lined with concrete in the late 1930s and 1940s, after years of periodic flooding. Today, it looks like a river again, at least in some places, says clean-up volunteer Carol Henning.

“It is beginning to look a little better. My memory of the river was people having drag races in the LA River, on the cement bottom," said Henning.

The LA River was the scene of a famous drag race in 1978 film Grease. Today, parts of the river have been restored as a recreation area. There are plants growing along the water and some of the birds, fish and other wildlife have returned.

The river is no longer seen as the city's ugly back yard, says Lewis MacAdams, a poet who founded the group Friends of the LA River in 1986.

“Now it is increasingly the front yard of the city. People do not ignore it. More and more people come down. This is the 24th annual LA River cleanup. We figure at this point we have cleaned up and taken out about a million pounds [450,000 kilograms] of trash out of the LA River," said MacAdams.

It is surprising to see the many discarded items that find their way to the river, says John Dubler, a volunteer from the nearby Disney Company.

“We find snack bags and clothing. It is amazing what you see. Little CDs," said Dubler.

There are grocery carts, construction materials and carpets.

Volunteer Jack Lebic says one item is most common. “Tons and tons of plastic bags. I think that is the number one. And they are buried underneath here," said Lebic.

It is a yearly effort that is paying off, with a river that is once again starting to look like a river.