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Park ranger discusses urban recreational space in Downtown Los Angeles

The following post was written by intern Maggie Su as part of a series of profiles of API members of the community.

Kya Marina Le never realized that working as a park ranger was an option for her, let alone in the city of Los Angeles. Growing up, the only rangers she encountered were Caucasian males working at national parks. Now, though, she is an interpreter with two ranger hats, working for the National Park Service and supervised by the California State Parks. Le is currently based at LA State Historic Park.

As an interpreter, she serves as the face of the park — a resource available to visitors who have questions. She enjoys the creative aspect of the work.

“What’s nice about [interpretation] is that it gives me the freedom and creativity to explore concepts that align with the National Park Service or with California State Parks, but also present it in a direction or voice that suits me the best,” Le said.

LA State Historic, 32 acres of recreational space bordering downtown that opened in April, was built with lots of community input. There were 65 community meetings held prior to the park’s opening, according to Le, during which residents could voice suggestions and concerns about the park’s facilities and programming.

While the park was still in its planning stages, it — then just a dirt lot — was made available to the public in the interim, from 2006 to 2013. Community members embraced the space, using it as a place to work out, teach their children how to ride a bike and go for runs. When it was closed, all they wanted to know was when it would be open again. Their enthusiasm for the space only increased when the park reopened earlier this year.

“Then, this was literally a dirt lot with porta potty bathrooms, and the community took it,” Le said. “It took three years for us to reopen this park, but all I’ve heard is, ‘it was worth the wait.’”

Although LA State Historic is a beautiful, green space in the heart of the city, Le said it can be difficult for California State Parks to find people willing to work there. In addition to the relative unaffordability of life in LA, the park simply can’t compare to the natural beauty of more remote locations in California.

“It’s like, if you’re a nature person, why would you go to this previous brownfield and work at a place where you’re congested with traffic?” Le said.

But Le is happy to work in Downtown LA; she understands that urban locations are where such parks are most needed. Indeed, LA State Historic’s greatest asset is its accessibility, especially to residents of neighboring communities such as Chinatown and Lincoln Heights. Although other parks may also be accessible by Metro, none are as welcoming as LA State Historic.

“This is where you can picnic with your family,” Le said. “This is a place where you can take your biker friends and hang out under the bridge after school before you get tacos and go home.”

Le, who lives in Little Saigon, Orange County, commutes an hour and a half to work each day by train. She takes the Metrolink regional train to Union Station then transfers to the Metro Gold Line, which takes her to the Chinatown station directly adjacent to the park. Although she hopes to eventually move to LA to avoid the three hour round-trip commute, for now, she is content — she can sleep on the train.

“I think public transit has always played a really big role in my life because I hate driving. The stress and mental load of driving is such a waste of time,” Le said. “Yeah, public transit takes a little longer, but at least you can spend that time being distracted.”

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