ANAHEIM : Call of the Wild in Sprawl of the City

At least one family of bobcats is loose in North Orange County and officials in Anaheim are delighted.

Discovering an oasis of wilderness in North Orange County has become an increasingly difficult challenge. The Oak Canyon Nature Center, operated by the city's Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services is such a place.

The fact that the center is secluded may make it a bit more likely that those bobcats, as well as a number of coyotes, deer, snakes and countless squirrels, will survive.

Facilities at the 60-acre park include a visitors' center and eight nature trails. The center is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day.

The shortest trail, two-tenths of a mile, is the paved, self-guided Heritage Trail that identifies many of the native plants of Oak Canyon. It also offers access for visitors restricted to wheelchairs or with strollers.

Roadrunner Ridge, at nearly a mile, is the longest and traces the northern boundary of Oak Canyon. This trail is more challenging and is exposed to the sun, which can become quite intense at midday.

Oak trees are most prevalent. However, other species provide diversity, particularly near the water. Sycamore, willow and elderberry are quite common.

On the slopes, and in other, drier areas, wild buckwheat, sage and laurel sumac dot the landscape.

Picnicking is not allowed in the nature center, but city parks are within two miles and Yorba Regional Park is less than five miles away.

The center is at 6700 East Walnut Canyon Road. From the Imperial Highway exit of the Riverside Freeway, visitors should travel south along Imperial to Nohl Ranch Road. Turning left, they will continue to Walnut Canyon Road, which also serves as the entrance to the Anaheim Hills Golf Course.

The developed areas west of the nature center are heavily landscaped and deep green as a result of irrigation.

Although the sign at the entrance to the golf course seems to indicate that the nature center is a part of the golf course complex, visitors must bypass the course and ignore a "not a through street" sign. Arriving at the end of Walnut Canyon Road, motorists should turn left into the nature center's shady parking lot. There is no entrance or parking fee at the center.

Among the birds indigenous to the area are scrub jays, owls, sparrows and warblers. Visitors are encouraged to record their sightings in a logbook. Entries for November included hawks, woodpeckers, bluebirds, squirrels, baby lizards, snake skins, bees and flies.

Nature programs are offered at 10 a.m. each Saturday.

In addition to daily operating hours, the center hosts two major annual events: the Children's Discovery Fair in September and Heritage Day in late spring. These events attract two or three thousand visitors each.

Annual attendance at the nature center totals more than 50,000, including participants in a summer day camp program.

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