If you’ve ever been to an Orange County park, you’ve probably seen the swatch of locks.
It’s a massive chain filled with locks. Depending on where the park is located, it could have more than a dozen.
Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, for example, in Laguna Beach has a gate with 15 locks.
It’s impressive and heavy and in a weird way reflects the value of the open space it protects.
Put another way, there were fewer locks on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station gate, even when it was operating. Why? Because few groups need access to a nuclear plant.
But a popular multi-use park in a Southern California wilderness area that’s adjacent to several cities?
Ooo-la-la. It’s like a love lock frenzy.
There are red and orange locks, dull brass and rusted silver. Combinations and keys. Most are Master locks, but there are American and ABUS too.
Some locks don’t look like they’ve ever been opened, all rusty and weather-worn.
Imagine the junk drawer of lost keys sitting in public agencies across the county.
And what agencies are we talking about? Basically, anyone that needs access.
“It can vary from facility to facility but generally it could be any kind of public safety agency, perhaps a utility that has easements there, maybe a volunteer organization,” said Marisa O’Neil, public information officer at OC Parks. “So OCFA (Orange County Fire Authority), the Sheriff’s Department or whatever the local jurisdiction there might be.”
That means Southern California Edison, local public works departments and environmental groups. For example, in Laguna Beach there’s the Laguna Canyon Foundation, which does trail restoration, among other activities.
“The locks are daisy-chained together so if at any time an agency needs access, their one lock would open the gate,” O’Neil said.
So the purpose of the big chain of locks is to allow unfettered access – in other words, unconditional public love.
Which means the locks of love are not unlike those put on public bridges by lovers as symbolic gestures of the strength of relationships.
Think Juliet’s balcony at the Casa di Giulietta in Verona, Italy, Locks Fountain in Montevideo, Uruguay and of course the love bridge at Pont de l’Archevêché, Paris.
There are dozens and dozens of locations around the world.
Closer to home, there is the Sunnynook foot bridge in Atwater Village and in San Diego, there is the Spruce Street suspension bridge not far from the zoo.
In all these cases, honeymooners and lovesick sweethearts affix a lock as a way of demonstrating their personal commitment.
Strong and unbroken, the locks of course are a huge headache for most of the locations, and officials are tearing them down or repurposing them in a more productive way — which of course is what happens in real life after years of marriage, but that’s another story.
What happens here in the scrubby parkland and sun-drenched hills of Southern California is that everyone gets to play: hikers, joggers, horse riders, birders and mountain bikers.
And this year in particular, with the heavy rains and abundant growth, the trails are drawing consistent crowds.
O’Neil reminded people to play by the rules and be smart. Stay on the trails, bring a map, take plenty of water. Watch your dogs so they don’t get bit by snakes. For other tips visit ocparks.com.
If you do get caught in a parking lot after the gate has been closed, fear not. Take a look on the daisy chain, and you should see one lock unlocked for your benefit – at least for a reasonable time after the lot closes. Eventually, they will lock the gate altogether.
So in a similar way, even with the love locks, it’s never what it seems. The original story of how those locks came to be is a sad tale of betrayal.
According to lore, it was World War I in the Serbian town of Vrnjačka Banja.
A man and woman fell in love, but he went off to fight the war in Greece. While he was there, he fell for a local woman. As a result, his Serbian girlfriend never recovered and allegedly died of heartbreak.
The other women in town decided that in order to prevent that from happening to them, they needed to write the names of their love interests on padlocks and put them on Most Ljubavi, which in Serbia means “Bridge of Love.”
It wasn’t until almost 100 years later that the tradition blossomed around the world.
Now, by contrast, in parks and O.C. trails, the locks are opened freely.
DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.