County officials will unveil a first draft of a plan for recreational trails in the Upper Newport Bay Regional Park during their public planning meeting tonight.
Staff members of the county's Harbors, Beaches and Parks Department have been meeting since March with area residents interested in contributing to the design of the 140-acre nature park, which the county got from the Irvine Co. and officially took over in July.
A variety of opinions have been expressed at the meetings, with some people wanting to ban travel in the park to all but a few pedestrians, and others arguing that there should be equal access for horses, mountain bikers and walkers, said Mary Murray, project manager for the park design.
Murray said that since the last meeting, on July 22, her group has tried to come up with a plan that meets community needs but also balances them with the natural resources of the area.
"Some people think that the park is very, very sensitive and we should only allow some pedestrian access to the site," she continued. "Then there are others that would like to maintain the uses that are on the site today regardless of what it has done to the site."
Area naturalists are particularly concerned about erosion at the park and the potential to disrupt birds in the area, including the clapper rail and burrowing owl, both of which are relatively uncommon birds.
The interim plan for the park bans horses and mountain bike riders from trails in an effort to halt erosion and damage to vegetation while the trail and pathway decisions are made.
Mountain bike groups and horseback riders say that they are are just as entitled as pedestrians to enjoy the park. They argue that a few designated paths would not disturb park wildlife and vegetation and would instead give more people the opportunity to appreciate it.
The 7 p.m. meeting will be at the Newport Dunes community center in Newport Beach.