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Willow Springs before and after sm

From Degradation to Restoration: Four-Year Anniversary of Willow Springs Wetland Restoration Project

Release Date: 2021-10-20

Strolling through Willow Springs Park, you’ll witness an incredible revival of a once highly-degraded, native ecosystem. The morning shade of the willow trees feels fresh and cool, mourning doves comfort you with their tranquil song, and the grounding smell of coastal sage scrub almost makes you forget you’re in a city. However, the park hasn’t always been the pleasurable sensory experience that we so gratefully enjoy today. 

Long Beach and the land that is now Willow Springs Park is Indigenous land, part of the original and current home of the Tongva people. The Tongva are the first people to live on and care for this land which includes all of the Los Angeles Basin. Although there is no surviving proof that the park site hosted a Tongva village, there is evidence of several villages nearby. It is believed that the natural wetlands that once existed on this site were a valuable resource for the Tongva. The Office of Sustainability continues to build relationships with the local Indigenous communities while tending to the reintroduced native plants. Indigenous communities, having tended to the land for centuries, have extensive knowledge of preserving native landscapes and play a critical role in conservation. 

Today, the Office of Sustainability continues to restore Willow Springs Park in partnership with the Parks, Recreation and Marine Department. At the time of its opening in 2017, the 12-acre Wetland Restoration Project area within the 48-acre park included degraded coastal sage scrub and riparian habitat. Approximately 200 native riparian trees and 6,440 native drought-tolerant plants were planted onsite. Native plants, such as sagebrush, buckwheat, golden bush, and mule fat are now thriving and continue to take back the land from the invasive plants that previously dominated the landscape.  

The restoration efforts at Willow Springs Park have not only had a positive impact on the presence of native species, but also improved local water quality and supply. One acre of the project includes restored seasonal wetlands that provide many environmental benefits, such as water-quality improvement, erosion control, flood abatement, and habitat enhancement. The restoration area also includes vernal pools and bioswales, vegetated shallow depressions that capture and filter stormwater runoff, as well as a water-retention basin that has diverted 33.8 million gallons of water from the Los Angeles River since 2017. 

The Office of Sustainability and its partners hope to expand Willow Springs Park and the Wetland Restoration Area to further accommodate recreational activities and a growing, diverse native habitat.  

“It’s great to see how much things have transformed in just four years,” said Larry Rich, Long Beach sustainability coordinator. “It’s really cool to see how the wildlife flocks to the vegetation. There’s more birds and animals here than ever before.” 

“With preserving and enhancing biodiversity as a goal,” Rich added, “we’ve helped create a biodiversity hotspot that can be replicated in other parts of the city.” 

Throughout its history, the site of Willow Springs Park has undergone drastic land transformations for a variety of reasons. In the park site’s early history, native plants occupied the land and water was abundant in the form of an artesian spring.  

In 1921, the City of Long Beach had plans to make the property that is now Willow Springs Park a large open space similar to Golden Gate Park in San Francisco or Griffith Park in Los Angeles. However, the plan was never realized due to the discovery of oil on Signal Hill. In 1922 the area became a focus for oil extraction. The increase in heavy disturbances and human activity quickly changed the landscape: invasive plant species crowded out natives, making it nearly uninhabitable for the local wildlife that depend on these plants. Oil field activities and invasive plant species prevailed until 2017 when work on the Willow Springs Wetland Restoration Project began.  

Willow Springs Park is open every day from dawn to dusk. Sustainability staff is on-site periodically throughout the week to answer any questions and provide more information on the land and volunteer opportunities. For news and updates on the park, follow @lbsustainability on Instagram and Facebook and sign up for our quarterly newsletter. We hope you will come to enjoy the raw beauty of Willow Springs Park and that you find a revived sense of place in this ever-expanding urban oasis.  

Willow Springs Park, then and now: 

Willow Springs Park restoration area (2017).

Willow Springs Park restoration area (2021).

Seasonal wetland and willow trees after rain at Willow Springs Park (2017).

Seasonal wetland during the dry season with abundant mulefat growth surrounding the willow trees in the background (2021).

Interpretive signs at Willow Springs Park (2017).

Interpretive signs at Willow Springs Park surrounded by lush native plants, a flowering California goldenbush in the foreground (2021).

Interpretive signs in the shade of a pepper tree (2017).

Interpretive signs in the shade of a pepper tree, surrounded by California goldenbush and coyote bush (2021).

Outdoor classroom area at Willow Springs Park (2017).

Outdoor classroom area at Willow Springs Park (2021).

A constructed spring that mimics the natural artesian spring that once existed on this land (2018).
This constructed spring pumps stormwater runoff from the nearby water-retention basin to the restoration area.

The constructed spring enveloped in native plant vegetation (2021).
If you look closely, you can spot one of the pipes peeking up in the background.

Bioswale with running water after rain (2018).
Bioswales allow rainwater and runoff to percolate back into the ground.

Bioswale full of vegeation during dry season (2021).
Vegetation growing along the bioswale helps filter polluted stormwater runoff.