Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
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|Laguna Coast Wilderness Park|
Boomer Ridge Trail, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park
|Location||San Joaquin Hills, Orange County, California|
|Nearest city||Laguna Beach, California|
|Area||7,000 acres (2,800 ha)|
|Governing body||Orange County Parks|
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is a 7,000-acre (2,800 ha) wilderness area in the San Joaquin Hills surrounding Laguna Beach, California. This park features coastal canyons, ridgeline views and the only natural lakes in Orange County, California. Trails are maintained for hiking and mountain biking with a wide range of difficulty, from beginner to expert. Most trails gain in height, reaching a maximum of 1,000 feet (300 m) in elevation. Several trails lead to downtown Laguna Beach.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park has some of the last remaining undeveloped coastal canyons in Southern California. The park is dominated by coastal sage scrub, cactus and native grasses. Over 40 endangered and sensitive species call Laguna Coast home including California gnatcatcher, cactus wren and the endemic Dudleya stolonifera. Both Laguna Coast, Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park are also home to mule deer, long-tailed weasel, healthy bobcat populations, and raptors like red-tailed hawk and the ground-nesting northern harrier.
South Coast Wilderness Area
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park is part of the contiguous approximately 20,000-acre (8,100 ha) South Coast Wilderness Area in southern Orange County, California. It stretches from Newport Beach to Laguna Niguel, and from Irvine to the Pacific Ocean.
The genesis of this designated wilderness area occurred in 1960 when bookstore owner James Dilley began advocating for a Laguna Beach greenbelt. Dilley's dream ultimately required the commitment of thousands of people, more than $65 million and decades to complete.
In 1990, inspired by a quartet of Laguna-based non-profits and by Laguna Beach, Irvine and Laguna Woods, the County of Orange, the State of California and the Irvine Company, voters approved a $20 million bond to purchase Laguna Canyon, to prevent development there and to keep it as an open space green belt forever.
Today, the South Coast Wilderness area offers a rare and valuable refuge for urban dwellers seeking natural beauty and solitude. Visitors can discover Orange County’s only natural lakes, a thriving wildlife community, nature centers, interpretive programs, and recreational activities, from hiking and birding to mountain biking. This mosaic of woodlands, wetlands, meadows and coastal canyons provides a unique glimpse of Southern California’s natural heritage.
The South Coast Wilderness open space includes:
- Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.
- Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, a 4,200-acre (1,700 ha) park of coastal canyon wilderness in Laguna Niguel, California.
- Crystal Cove State Park, a 2,791-acre (1,129 ha) National Natural Landmark of backcountry, wilderness, coastal bluffs, beaches and tide pools. National Register Historic District.
- City of Irvine, California Open Space Preserve, a 2,339-acre (947 ha) preserve, featuring coastal sage scrub, oak, woodland, grassland and riparian communities.
- City of Newport Beach Open Space, a 254-acre (103 ha) area open for docent-led hiking and biking.
- City of Laguna Woods, 10 acres (4.0 ha) of open space.
Laguna Greenbelt, Inc. is a grassroots organization, founded in 1968 to preserve and protect the environment in and around Laguna Beach and Orange County. This non-profit works for the benefit of the general public informing, advocating and educating concerned citizens. With James Dilley as its founder, Laguna Greenbelt secures open space for the residents of Orange County and beyond. The Greenbelt believes, “that open space and wilderness areas along with wildlife habitat preservation are critical to the long-term health and well being of residents of southern California…We fought to preserve Laguna Canyon, Aliso and Woods Canyons and, the large swath of coastal hills known as the San Joaquin Hills. Much of our history has revolved around informing citizens, decision makers and stakeholders about the many benefits of open space preservation and protection…This work continues today with our initiative on the Irvine Regional Wildlife Corridor, an important wildlife habitat connection between the Laguna Greenbelt/South Coast Wilderness area and the Cleveland National Forest.” Laguna Greenbelt also helped facilitate the formation of the Laguna Canyon Foundation.
Laguna Canyon Foundation
Following the historic environmental events of 1989, including the creation of The Tell photographic mural, as part of the Laguna Canyon Project, and the subsequent “Walk to Save Laguna Canyon” that culminated at this outdoor public installation, a bond measure was passed in 1990 by Laguna Beach voters; after which the Laguna Canyon Foundation was formed to manage preservation of Laguna Canyon. The Canyon Foundation soon facilitated the purchase of additional sections of open space that had been slated for development, and in 1993, established Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. In 2014, Laguna native Hallie Jones was named executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation.
Today, more than 200 Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers help Orange County Parks manage these very special coastal canyons. The James and Rosemary Nix Nature Center on Laguna Canyon Road in the Wilderness Park contributes to this effort by featuring exhibits, educational programs, guided hikes and other activities. In 2015, it was featured, along with other organizations, in Laguna Beach Eco Heroes, a 30-minute documentary by The My Hero Project. The efforts of the Crystal Cove Alliance, ECO Warrior, Laguna Bluebelt, Nancy Caruso, One World One Ocean, Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Wyland, and Zero Trash Laguna were also highlighted in the documentary.
Laguna Canyon and its Tributaries
The following is from the book, The Laguna Wilderness, © Laguna Wilderness Press.
“Laurel Canyon nestles in a hollow, shielding it from the adjacent San Joaquin Hills Transportation Corridor, which cuts through a ridge to the east…Toward the east, an oak springs from the canyon wall, its roots hanging down the rock and clinging to a long life.”
“Further up Laurel Canyon, the groves are beautiful at all times, especially in the autumn as the sycamore leaves turn golden and red and in the early spring when the dry brown grasses yield to the renewal of verdant growth and flowers. A waterfall is conspicuous during the rainy season.”
“Camarillo Canyon runs parallel on the east to the toll road, which destroyed hundreds of sycamore and oak trees, but the hollow of the canyon has been preserved.
“Little Sycamore canyon is farther east, across from Sycamore Hills. It opens onto the Laguna Lakes, and its entrance is marked by a beautiful grove of sycamores along Little Sycamore Creek.”
“In Sycamore Hills, now known as the James Dilley Greenbelt Preserve, the majestic old oaks and sycamores form magnificent groves…During the late fall, their leaves turn and glow in the backlight of the sunset and sunrise.”
Emerald Canyon Trail
As one of the most beautiful trails in the wilderness park, Emerald Canyon Trail, is a sparsely traveled one-way, very thin trail that leads to the gated residential community of Emerald Bay. At the end of this trail, a large fence prevents access to this community, necessitating travelers to return to their starting point. Near the end of the trail is Emerald Canyon Falls, a magnificent 30-foot waterfall. Estimated round-trip completion time is two to four hours. This is just one of many trails within the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.
The book, The Laguna Wilderness, describes the area:
"The Laguna Lakes are adjacent to and accessible from Laguna Canyon Road. Barbara's Lake 12-acre (4.9 ha) (for Barbara Stuart Rabinowitsh, who served the Laguna Greenbelt as an activist and a benefactor of the Laguna Canyon Foundation) is on the southeast side of the road...Its fingers are covered by bulrush, cattails, and willows and provide habitat for grebes and mallards as well as an occasional egret and heron...Close by and to the east along the road and easily visible is a vernal lake that has suffered from the removal many years ago of oak trees and the planting of water-loving eucalyptus along its edge. The streams of the canyons flow after heavy winter rains."
In 2014, with more than 300,000 hikers and bikers visiting the displays and using the 42 miles (68 km) of trails, Laguna Coast was one of the most popular destinations in the Orange County Park system. The challenge for the future preservation of this natural treasure is to find a sustainable balance between promoting judicious use of the land to keep the public engaged in its protection, while Inspiring people to protect what they love.
- Adam Maya. “Laguna Coast Wilderness Park,” Orange County Register, 23 September 2012.
- Leslie Earnest. “Dream of an Eternal Greenbelt Survived 'Quixotic' Originator,” Los Angeles Times, 02 February 1992.
- “Laguna Greenbelt History,” Retrieved 26 April 2015.
- Allan Jalon. "Two Artists Challenge Developers to Help on Canyon Photo Project," Los Angeles Times, 30 May 1988.
- Robert Lachman. “Photographers' Mural to Document Canyon Changes in 40,000 Pictures,” Los Angeles Times, 8 April 1989.
- Sharael Kolberg and Linda Domingo. “Residents Have Forged Policies, Protected Place and Stood Up For Their Beliefs,” Laguna Beach Magazine, January 2013.
- Leslie Earnest. “An Artful Approach to the Wilderness,” Los Angeles Times, 30 July 1997.
- Beau Nicolette. “At home in the wilderness,” Coastline Pilot, 03 February 2014.
- Laguna Beach Indy Staff (August 6, 2015). "Roundabout Comes to Town". Laguna Beach Indy. Retrieved December 5, 2016.
Documentary is posted at 2015 Eco Heroes, My Hero
- John McKinney. “In Orange County, Exploring Laguna Canyon's Natural Lakes,” Los Angeles Times, 18 November 2001.