The Aliso Creek Inn resort is a slice of paradise for retirees content to shoot nine holes of golf and stroll amid picturesque fairways nestled at the mouth of Aliso Canyon.
The rustic hideaway off Coast Highway is much the same as it was 30 years ago, when Violet and Ben Brown bought the resort. They added a restaurant, built a 62-room, bungalow-style inn and then refused to develop the property further.
It is a peaceful setting amid the turbulent growth of South County.
For the past two years Brown and her customers have been fighting to keep it that way, mounting a fierce campaign against a county plan calling for a bicycle trail that would cut through a section of the public golf course.
On Monday their efforts finally paid off when county park officials announced they were abandoning plans for the bike trail. Ironically, the plan was part of the county's own efforts to preserve more than 5,000 acres of surrounding canyon landscape for a regional park.
"We did a feasibility analysis and it said that from every aspect . . . the physical configuration, wildlife migration, safety, cost and compatibility with the golf course, at least in this point in time, it is not feasible," said Denton Turner, a design manager for the county division of Harbors, Beaches and Parks.
Under the plan, by condemning a section of Brown's property the county would have forced the resort to relocate two golf tees, a putting green and the pro shop. Opponents said the trail would ruin the atmosphere of the resort and create a hazard for bicyclists who might be hit by errant golf balls.
They were elated with the county decision.
"It came at a great time. I opened the letter and said, 'what a wonderful Thanksgiving,' " said Brown, a widow. "I think the bottom line is if they had the money, they would have done it. But there was an awful lot of pressure, too."
Aliso Creek Inn General Manager Ed Slymen agreed, saying it was "the result of a lot of people making a lot of calls and writing a lot of letters. I posted it (the announcement) on the pro shop wall, so naturally everyone's clapping their hands."
But not everyone is celebrating.
"I think it's a considerable setback because you have large populations back there that could bike to the beach," said Chuck Densford, a member of the Laguna Rads bicycle club. "Everyone's looking for a way out of their cars so something like that would have been great. The problem is you have a lot of people who like to do something and there's nowhere to do it."
Laguna Beach resident Lloyd Collins, another cyclist, also was disappointed in the outcome.
"I was interested in riding Aliso Creek all up in there," Collins said. "Living in Laguna Beach, you don't have any place to ride except along Coast Highway or Laguna Canyon (Road)."
Under the plan, visitors would have parked at several inland entrances to the Aliso/Wood Canyons Regional Park, then hiked or biked along Aliso Creek, south from Wood Canyon to the Aliso Beach. Because of the rugged terrain, officials wanted to bring the trail along the northern edges of the Aliso Creek Golf Course, onto an existing road.
The bicycle path was part of a master plan for the area. For decades, county officials have envisioned a bike trail that would extend from Cleveland National Forest to the ocean.
Nearly 10 years ago, the Aliso Viejo Co. dedicated 3,400 acres to the county as part of the approval process for the Aliso Viejo planned community.
The county combined the land with other dedications for 5,400 acres. In 1988, officials drew up a $14-million general development plan for Aliso/Wood Canyons Regional Park.
The park is bounded by Moulton Parkway to the north, Aliso Creek Golf Course to the south, Alicia Parkway to the east and El Toro Road and Laguna Canyon Road to the west.
From her house overlooking the resort, where she has kept a cautious eye on development, Brown enjoyed her moment of victory.
"I guess we're a little selfish, but we've worked so hard to keep it like this," she said. "We've refused to sell it to developers or to turn it over to someone who would change it into more of a moneymaking operation, because it's never been that kind of place."
The park will now stop north of the Aliso Creek Inn property, and that suits her fine.
"Bikers and golfers just don't mix," she said. "This is such a beautiful canyon, and there is so little untouched land left, I just can't imagine what it would be like."