Las Flores Creek Park scheduled to open end of March

Las Flores Creek Park is expected to open the end of March. Ultimately, there will be new restrooms, trails with interpretive signage, picnic tables and play areas at the park. Photo by Laura Tate / TMT

Phase one includes building a park area, parking lot, trails and restoration of the creek.

By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times

In a public works project nearing completion of the first phase, the Las Flores Creek Park should re-open for picnickers by the end of March.

The park, about a quarter mile up Las Flores Canyon Road from Pacific Coast Highway, has been surrounded by temporary fencing and inhabited by large, yellow earthmovers for months. But the “park” part of the restoration project is almost finished, Public Works Administrative Assistant Brandie Sanchez said.

“Ultimately, there will be new restrooms, trails with interpretive signage, picnic tables and play areas,” Sanchez said. “The park will be very kid-friendly, absolutely.”

The $3.8 million project, with $2.3 million of the tab coming from grant funding, is designed to restore Las Flores Creek to a more natural and environmentally sustainable condition.

Phase one, the park area and parking lot, trails and restoration of the creek, should be complete “in about six weeks, barring any rains,” Public Works Director Bob Brager said.

“Eventually, there will be a parking lot on the Rambla Pacifico side of the creek,” Sanchez explained. “We’re still waiting for the design of the pedestrian bridge that will bring you over the creek to the park area.”

Phase two, including construction of the bridge and completion of public facilities, requires extensive soil analysis and other studies, and will take a little more time.

“We’re doing whatever we can to make it eco-friendly,” Brager said. “We’re hoping to start that part by June.”

Meanwhile, the Parks and Recreation Department will accommodate temporary bathroom facilities in the park, Brager said.

The creek restoration will widen the streambed, slowing the creek’s current and reducing erosion along the embankments. Removing non-native plant species and re-introducing native, drought/fire-resistant plantings will protect the natural creek area and enhance habitat of fish and wildlife.

Las Flores Canyon is a narrow, disturbance-prone watershed, having endured its share of natural and man-made disasters during the past couple of decades. Fire, periodic flooding and landslides have altered the natural configuration of the creek bed, accelerating bank erosion and scouring the floodplain.

The restoration plan is a gentle correction that will enhance fish, as well as human, habitat. This will be accomplished by installing natural rock structures and bioengineering features like willow cuttings jointed with rocks and willow plantings, a native vegetation.

Jennifer Voccola, environmental programs coordinator for the city, said reconfiguring the streambed would allow the creek to meander more naturally. Portions of the project site containing native vegetation are designated as an environmentally sensitive habitat area.

“Re-introducing native plantings might change the look of the park a bit,” she said. “Earlier homes there had their own decorative plants. There will be more diversity. We’ll be putting in native trees like sycamore and willows.”

Returning to a more native vegetative state should have an additional benefit.

“We’re hoping to see more butterflies come back,” Voccola said.

Monarch butterflies migrate south to Mexico each year, passing over Malibu.

The refurbishment of Las Flores Creek Park is designed as an environmentally beneficial project. So, in addition to the extensive habitat and floodplain restoration, all efforts are geared to reducing environmental impact: permeable surfaces will be used to avoid run-off into the creek, an advanced onsite wastewater treatment system will be used for the public restrooms and as much local building material as possible will be recycled.

Fires also swept through the area in the ’90s, leaving chimneys, house foundations and other features that needed to be dismantled. Material that is recoverable, such as bricks and concrete, is being recycled and used as part of the park’s walkways, retaining walls and driveway bedding.

Earlier buildings and properties on the site were either sold to the city or seized in drug busts, Voccola pointed out.

“So something like that is being recycled into an asset that serves the city,” she said.

The Las Flores Creek Park project is one of three major public works projects going on in Malibu right now. The city is also redeveloping the sidewalks and street at Cross Creek Way and replacing a bridge at Solstice Creek as part of a program to restore steelhead trout in the area.