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Parks Still in Bloom

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Frank Messina is a free-lance writer who contributes regularly to The Times Orange County Edition.

When the cold weather comes, the tourists disappear from the county’s regional parks, leaving the vast stretches of open space to the animals and the park rangers. But that doesn’t mean the park system shuts down.

Its wilderness programs continue throughout the winter, particularly on the weekends. And almost all of them are free.

“We never close unless it’s an emergency,” says Cindi Morgan, an attendant at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park just outside San Juan Capistrano. “Winter is really a better time of year to visit. It can be cold and wet, but it’s really beautiful here at this time of year.”

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Not only does the wet weather bring out wildflowers, but with fewer people around, animals can be found roaming the park with much greater frequency.

Through late spring, rangers at Caspers will conduct nature walks on Saturday and Sunday mornings, starting at 9:30. Every Saturday evening at 7, there’s a campfire program where rangers talk about nature, often bringing out a collection of non-venomous snakes from the park museum. Sometimes the rangers even supply hot chocolate, M & M candies and marshmallows for roasting over the fire.

Programs elsewhere include fossil presentations in the Ralph B. Clark Regional Park in Fullerton; ranger-led hikes to one of the county’s most beautiful spots, the Red Rock bluffs in the Whiting Regional Wilderness Park near Trabuco Canyon; and bird watch walks through Upper Newport Bay.

Park administrators warn that programs may be canceled because of lack of participation. Check during the week by calling the county regional parks office at (714) 771-6731, Ext. 10.

Programs include:

* At Carbon Canyon Regional Park, Carbon Canyon Road and Valencia Avenue, near Brea: nature walks on Saturdays at 8 a.m.

* At the Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, Rosecrans Avenue and Beach Boulevard, Fullerton: nature walks on Saturdays at 2 p.m.; fossil programs Sundays at 1 p.m.

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* At Irvine Regional Park, Chapman Avenue and Santiago Canyon Road, near Villa Park: nature video programs on Saturdays and Sundays, starting at noon and running hourly through 3 p.m.; also on Saturdays and Sundays, the Orange County Zoo offers guided walks through the animal facility at 1 p.m.

* At Featherly Regional Park, north of Gypsum Canyon Road exit from the Riverside Freeway, Yorba Linda: campfire programs Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; nature walks Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m.

* At Santiago Oaks Regional Park, Windes Drive near Santiago Canyon Road, Anaheim Hills: nature films Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m., followed by nature walks.

* At Upper Newport Bay, 600 Shellmaker and Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Beach: campfire programs at Newport Dunes on the second Saturday of every month at 7:30 p.m.; bird-watch walks through the Back Bay Saturdays and Sundays at 1 p.m. Several other programs, including kayaking and canoeing tours, are available for a fee.

* At the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Alicia Parkway near Aliso Creek Road, Aliso Viejo: nature walks Sundays at 8 a.m.

* At O’Neill Regional Park, Live Oak Canyon Road (near El Toro Road), Rancho Santa Margarita: nature walks Fridays at 4 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays at 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

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* At the Whiting Ranch Regional Park, Portola Parkway between Bake Road and Alton Parkway, near Trabuco Canyon: nature walks to Red Rock Canyon on Saturdays and Sundays at 10 a.m.

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