By Craig Reem, OCMetro—June 9, 2005
A 22-mile Mountains to Sea Trail was officially completed May 26 and signed off by The Irvine Co.’s Donald Bren; he has turned open space on the Irvine Ranch into a personal passion and has made another gift, this time for $20 million. The U.S. secretary of the interior was in attendance at a ceremony and awards presentation before about 200 people at Irvine Regional Park.
Bren, described recently by Irvine Councilman Larry Agran as one who “used to begin every conversation with what he wanted to build, and who now begins every conversation with what he wants to preserve,” announced the creation of a nonprofit Irvine Ranch Land Reserve Trust. The trust will coordinate some 30 agencies that have an interest in and around the open space. The Irvine Co. chairman also pledged the new funds to help create more public access for outdoor enthusiasts as well as enhance both preservation and conservation. When he made one of his biggest gifts of open space 11,000 acres in 2001 he donated, through his Bren Foundation, an initial $30 million. The new money will improve trailheads, creating 29 new trails, as well as help administer a giant swath of land some 83 square miles of permanent open space.
The trail begins at Weir Canyon in Anaheim Hills (it is accessed from Irvine Regional Park) and winds to the Back Bay in Newport Beach. Two more trails are planned, including one that will run through the El Toro base when it is developed into the Great Park.
“We cannot do it alone,” Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton said after the hourlong presentation before city, county, state and federal officials. “It is wonderful to have partners stepping forward on the scale of a national park.” Bren accepted on behalf of the reserve the Award of Excellence from the Joint Venture Partners in Stewardship Program. This is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Interior to encourage public/private cooperation to improve parks and wildlands. The Nature Conservancy’s California program, which manages The Irvine Co.’s wilderness land on the reserve, received an Award of Excellence.
Bren’s 2001 announcement was considered a seminal moment in Orange County history guaranteeing the preservation of more than half of the company’s 93,000 acres in a region that otherwise is rapidly becoming urban. The 11,000 acres alone approach the size of Manhattan; what is today more than 50,000 acres is roughly equivalent to the combined land areas of the cities of Irvine, Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. Much of the open space is available through docent-led groups (www.IrvineRanchLandReserve.org), and many acres will remain off-limits to protect the habitat.
That makes the 22-mile Mountains to Sea Trail particularly relevant, as hikers, runners and bikers can travel the whole section, or a portion of it, on their own schedule. It is one of the longest corridors in any American urban environment.
“What’s important to me,” Bren said after the ceremony, “is contributing, giving back to the community in perpetuity an asset that people of all walks of life can enjoy.”
“When you think about the 50,000 acres,” said Michael Pinto, founder and president of the Laguna Canyon Foundation, “this creates a kind of portal…linkages are the key thing.”
The new trail includes a loop from Irvine Regional Park to and from Weir Canyon. To the south, it goes through or skirts such landmarks as Peters Canyon Regional Park, Tustin Ranch Golf Course, San Joaquin Wildlife Sanctuary, and to the Back Bay in Newport Beach.
Of the two planned trails: One begins in Cleveland National Forest northwest of Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park and travels south through the Great Park, skirting Laguna Woods and cutting through Laguna Coast Wilderness Park to Laguna Beach. The other begins in Limestone Canyon off Santiago Canyon Road near Irvine Lake and travels south through Irvine, under the 405 past the new development of Quail Hill, through Bommer Canyon and Crystal Cove State Park to the ocean.
In all, some 25 miles of new trails are expected to be open on the reserve over the next five years for a total of 100 miles of trails.