Game on at El Cariso

October 6, 2010 

Heads up, El Cariso Park-goers: Get ready to kick it in new ways at your favorite 79-acre spread.

A multi-year, multimillion dollar renovation and building initiative is underway at the county park, set against a striking mountain backdrop in Sylmar. The latest components—including two new artificial turf soccer fields and a cutting edge “universal play area”—were approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

And there’s much more on the horizon: an $11.5 million gymnasium/community building with indoor basketball facilities, a full kitchen, an onsite office for sheriff’s deputies and gathering spaces for park-users, which is welcome news for a seniors’ group that now must meet elsewhere. A contractor has been selected to design and build the new structure, with groundbreaking expected to take place early next year. The job is set to finish in 2012.

Also on tap for the park is a “Smart Garden Learning Center,” where people from the community can learn the fine points of composting and environmentally sound landscaping techniques. The center is scheduled to open in February.

All this comes on top of a slew of other improvements in recent years that have included: a $5.8 million renovation of the park’s swimming pool facilities; new water-saving irrigation measures in the park and on its golf course; upgraded restrooms, drinking fountains, picnic areas and walkways; and the installation of a park fitness zone featuring outdoor gym equipment.

The amenity infusion means
more park to love for people like
Alina Mendizabal, whose family has made heavy use of El Cariso over the years.

“Basically, my children grew up there,” said Mendizabal, who works at Olive View-UCLA Medical Center and frequently volunteers at the park. Her husband, she said, “lives at the tennis courts.” After neck surgery earlier this year, she took part in water aerobics classes at the newly renovated pool. Her husband even had a (short-lived) side business selling ice cream in a truck outside the park. And now, even though she’s still in her 40s, she’s already looking forward to hanging out in the park’s new community center when she enters her retirement years.

“That’s where we’re going to be all the time,” Mendizabal recently told her husband.

El Cariso provides a “safe, healthy, playful environment, with caring, dedicated staff,” she said. “I always see my neighbors. It’s our community park.”

More than any amenities, she credits the people who work at El Cariso with “making us feel welcome, making us feel valued.”

Her only complaint? “We do need more lighting. That is one thing we do need. It’s really dark in the back on the walking trails.”

El Cariso, designated a county community regional park, is the only one of its kind in the 3rd District.

It was named in honor of the El Cariso Hotshots, an elite interagency firefighting crew that lost a dozen members battling the devastating Loop Fire in 1966.

The park attracted 534,563 visitors last year—a figure that’s expected to jump by 15% to 20% when the new, 15,000-square-foot gym/community center is completed.

Altogether, the recent and upcoming projects at the park represent an investment of more than $34 million, according to a tally provided by the county Department of Parks and Recreation.

Funding for the improvements comes from several sources, including Los Angeles County Proposition A bond funds, Proposition 40 state bond funds and various county monies.

The artificial turf soccer fields that were approved Tuesday, along with other improvements totaling nearly $11.5 million, are expected to attract new users to the park. So is the 54,000-square-foot universally accessible playground. Its concept was created in consultation with the advocacy group Shane’s Inspiration, which helps design playgrounds that all children can enjoy, even those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities. (Other such playgrounds are located at Griffith Park and Parque De Los Sueños in East Los Angeles.)

Even now, before these state-of-the-art elements are introduced at El Cariso, “the park gets used very, very well by the community,” said Sandra Chapman, the park’s supervisor. Looking ahead, she said, “I can just see it blossoming.”

Russ Guiney, director of the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said all of the recent and coming improvements have two goals in common: making the park better for the environment and better for the people who use it.

“All of this comes together,” he said, “to really make this one of the parks of the future.”

For a map showing where some of the new features will be located, click here.


Posted 10/6/10

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