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Commentary: Combine Talbert Park with Banning Ranch

It's a small place that is beginning to receive attention by a number of large agencies for the simple reason that it exists as one of the very few empty spaces on local maps, a place with no facilities and few signs and fences.

Since the county owns the land, it is jumping into this rare open space with mitigation funds derived from the massive development taking place all around us, which means Talbert Park will get some touch-ups.

They hired a group of consultants to conduct the public input and design sessions.This could have meant the beginning of the end for this quiet little spot but the process of figuring what should be added, if anything, to these 88 acres of semi-wildness has gone well, due to the wise approach the group has taken.

Fifty or so citizens in the meeting on Thursday at the Costa Mesa Community Center were shown four options. One was to leave it alone. Others were to add a few picnic tables in a small area off Victoria Street, native plant restoration and creative projects, such as piers and walkways over Talbert's pond. The biggest idea floated was the extension of the Army Corps of Engineers' marshlands northward into an area near the Santa Ana River.

The plan called Alternative 3 included many features that would begin to shrink Talbert's open space with the intrusions of parking lots and other elements. This would likely leave the area unrecognizable from what it is today.

But the county's consultants started with fundamental reality of what Talbert is now and that works and that many of its core users wish it to stay that way. They seem to understand its most unique attribute is that it is largely free of human engineering.

Considering the fact that the sanitation district wants to build a sewer and Costa Mesa wants to build a bike trail, the options presented could have been much worse.

While there is always temptation to improve on simplicity, Terry Koken of Costa Mesa observed that while it may be inconvenient when the area's simple trails get muddy once in a while, that's what it takes to have simple trails in the first place. I agree.

Some of the other individuals couldn't resist the impulse to talk about governmental process after process, as if regulations will fix everything. But in this case, the consultants and the county seem to be keeping their eyes on the right ball. Hopefully they can be encouraged to keep doing so.

Over the long run, a great outcome for Talbert would be to combine it with Banning Ranch as one large state park. This is the option the Nature Commission would like to work toward.

KEVIN NELSON is a member of the Nature Commission.

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