Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why is Baldwin Lake important?
Answer: The Lake currently serves several important functions within the Los Angeles River watershed. It collects runoff from the San Gabriel Mountains, retains it onsite to provide filtration, recharge and habitat, and is a vital resource of educational, scenic and restorative value for the more than 350,000 people who annually visit the 127-acre Los Angeles County Arboretum.
Q: What is current state of the Lake?
A: Over the years, the Lake has been impacted by severe sedimentation and inflows of urban runoff. It was originally 15-18 feet deep, but now has an average depth of 24 inches. Historic perimeter walls, dating back to the days of Arcadia’s founder, E.J. “Lucky” Baldwin, are collapsing as extremes in water levels compromise their integrity.
Q: What about wildlife dependent on the Lake?
A: Pasadena Audubon Society reports a decline in condition, productivity and bird use at both Baldwin Lake and adjacent Tule Pond over the last several years. Current shallow depths are not sufficient to sustain a healthy ecosystem. Recorded (historic) bird sightings have been reduced by 22%, and aquatic waterfowl numbers and variety have been dramatically impacted. Migratory species, some traveling hundreds of miles along the Pacific Flyway, have largely lost this important resource.
Kimball L. Garrett, Ornithology Collections Manager, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, states: “Baldwin Lake has long been an important feature of the Arboretum, supporting a diversity of wintering waterfowl and other aquatic birds. Data through the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird citizen science initiative underscores the importance of the lake for birds. Some sample counts include 150 Ring-necked Ducks and 15 Northern Pintails on 5 February, 1984, 100 Eared Grebes and 10 Common Gallinules on 8 August 1985, and 200 American Coots on 5 January, 1975. The eBird data further shows that counts of water birds have declined considerably in the past decade or so as the lake has become far less suitable for aquatic life.” Rehabilitation of the lake to provide habitat for resident, migrant and wintering water birds as well as opportunities for exhibits and educational programs relating to aquatic ecology is sorely needed and would greatly enhance the visitor experience (both human and avian) at the Arboretum.
Q: Is the Lake natural or man-made?
A: The Lake site is a historically recognized geologic feature of the Raymond Hill Fault whose springs and sag ponds attracted early habitation by native Gabrielino/Tongva villagers. Baldwin Lake, excavated to its present size by E.J. Baldwin in the 1880’s, is a regionally-rare lake that is the centerpiece of the Los Angeles County Arboretum and an educational and scenic resource for its visitors.
Q: Why is it called Baldwin Lake?
A: The current name reflects the historic significance of the site as listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Elias Jackson “Lucky” Baldwin was a significant figure on both California and national circuits, and both his guest house (“Queen Anne”) Cottage and an adjoining Carriage Barn are listed structures. Baldwin Lake is part of the associated historic landscape that provides scale and credence for the historic listing. In the words of a Los Angeles Times reporter (June 11, 1893): “I have seen a number of botanical gardens in different parts of the world, but there are few more beautiful than the grounds about this home of Lucky Baldwin. It is one of the prettiest places in the world, and every tree and shrub connected with it has been planted by his direction.” Lucky Baldwin deepened the natural lake basin in the 1880’s and constructed a landmark boulder-topped retaining wall, remnants of which are visible today.
Q: Will normal rainfall restore the Lake?
A: At best, winter rains may fill the shallow basin and create a temporary impression of health. In reality, a very heavy rain may overwhelm the collapsing perimeter walls to create flooding issues and accelerated erosion of the shoreline.
Q: What is the Arboretum doing about this problem?
A: The Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation provided funding for an initial Baldwin Lake Study (2012) which resulted in a strong recommendation for a comprehensive Engineering Study. As a first step, a Core Sediment Study was conducted in both Baldwin Lake and Tule Pond in 2015. The Foundation hired a grant writer as part of a larger effort to raise both public awareness and the dollars necessary to go forward with the critical Engineering Study, and those efforts continue today.
Q: Who is working to Save Baldwin Lake?
A: The Los Angeles Arboretum Foundation and the County of Los Angeles Department of Parks & Recreation are joined by the City of Arcadia, the local Gabrielino-Tongva Tribe, local Audubon Societies, local historical societies and more.
Q: What can I do to help?
A: Help is needed to spread public awareness of the critical issues surrounding the Save Baldwin Lake effort. Sign up for updates on our website; contact local public officials with your concern; share the word with friends, family and neighbors. YOU can make a difference!