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The Trees Are Older but It’s the Park Getting the Party

Times Staff Writer

At 700 years of age and more, some of the old oaks were already big enough for a bear to climb even before Christopher Columbus’ parents were born.

The venerable old trees are part of a magnificent grove of oaks in a park that also has some years behind it--Irvine Regional Park. The oldest of its kind in the county, the park is approaching its 91st birthday.

And during this season of centennial festivities for Orange County, a birthday festival will be held Oct. 2 as a sort of precursor to the park’s own centennial in 1997, said Tim Miller, manager of regional parks operations for the Orange County Environmental Management Agency.

The grove of oaks, a favorite picnic spot of early settlers of the county,is one of many treats of nature that fill the 477-acre park east of the city of Orange.

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It was before the turn of the century that Orange County families, traveling in horse-drawn carriages, began using the grove as a picnic area.

Among those visitors were members of the Irvine family, owners of a sprawling ranch that covered much of the county. In October, 1897, James Irvine Jr. donated the first 160 acres as a park. Since then, further donations and purchases have increased the park’s size to its present 477 acres.

Many of the centuries-old trees favored by early settlers remain, including one that is believed to be more than 850 years old, said Supervising Ranger Mark Carlson.

“Of course, there are many younger trees, too; they do grow from little acorns, you know,” he said with a chuckle.

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The Oct. 2 festival, which will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., is open to the public--not only for picnics in the oak grove, but also for visits to the zoo and the lakes, rides in a hay wagon, refreshments at the refurbished pavilion, with its old-fashioned soda fountain, and hikes on trails through nature areas.

Carlson said the zoo is devoted mainly to animals native to Orange County, including coyotes, raccoons, opossums, mule deer, owls and hawks. There also is a small petting zoo where children can feed and get acquainted with goats and other domestic creatures.

There is a small boathouse near the twin lakes, which cover about 2 1/2 acres, and pedal-boats are available for rent.

Entertainment during the festival day also will include folk music in the old band shell, exhibits of antique automobiles and steam engines, as well as an arts and crafts fair.

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Admission to the park, which is on Chapman Avenue, about 5 miles east of the city of Orange, is free but parking will cost $1.50.


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