Latest Gift Brings Bren’s Donations to Reserve to $50 Million

Big Swath Gets a Big Gift

The foundation of the Irvine Co.’s chairman gives $20 million to increase access to 50,000 acres of open space.

Standing in a small clearing amid giant sycamores in Irvine Regional Park on Thursday, Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren pledged $20 million to expand the public’s access to 50,000 acres of the former Irvine Ranch set aside as open space.

The gift brings to $50 million the amount donated by the Donald Bren Foundation to make sure the land is protected and remains in its rugged state.

Bren, making a rare public appearance before 200 invited guests, including U.S. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, also announced the creation of the Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust, a nonprofit he said guaranteed that the acreage would be permanently preserved.

The old ranch land stretches from the Anaheim hills to the ocean and includes Limestone Canyon and Crystal Cove. Three mountains-to-sea bike paths are included in the public access plan, with one of them recently opened. The Irvine Ranch Land Reserve covers more than 145 square miles, about half of it urbanized.

Trish Smith, a senior project ecologist with the Nature Conservancy, which manages 34,000 acres of the reserve, applauded the creation of the trust.

“It’s hard for me to imagine it’s really happening. We’ve been thinking about it for a long time, noodling and wishing for it, but we never thought it would actually happen,” Smith said.

The benefit of the trust, she said, is the consistent management it should provide. If the land were managed by the government, it would be subject to political whim and the government’s own economic restraints, she said.

The skies were overcast and a light fog clung to the hills as Norton and Bren took a short walk before the festivities began. But the clouds burned off and the sun came through as Bren spoke.

“My vision,” Bren told those assembled, “is that the reserve will set a new standard for conservation stewardship and recreation that will be understood and appreciated, not just in Orange County, but throughout the United States.

CHANGE IN THE AIR: Donald Bren, chairman of the Irvine Co., chats with U.S. Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton at Irvine Regional Park, where Bren announced his foundation’s donation. One of three trails from the mountains to the sea has been opened.

“I believe we can create a world-renowned park … a place where the people from Orange County can enjoy nature close to their homes,” he said.

The $20-million gift will be used to enhance public access to areas of the reserve that now are off-limits, including the opening of 30 new trails in the next three to five years, company officials said.

The money will also support management and restoration of natural habitats.

Norton praised the plans for the reserve.

“The Irvine Ranch illustrates what cooperative conservation is all about,” she said. “A conservation-minded corporate citizen is working hand-in-hand with federal and state agencies, the Nature Conservancy, local communities, private citizens and other partners to thoughtfully and purposefully create an environment where both people and wildlife can thrive.”

Times staff photographer Don Kelsen contributed to this report.

By Sara Lin, Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Times