A Chance to Glimpse Natural Wonders : Irvine Co., Nature Conservancy Pact Gives Public Opportunity to Tour Protected Areas

The opening this weekend of some 6,600 acres of land that stretch from Coast Highway inland through Emerald Canyon to the north and from Laguna Canyon Road to Crystal Cove State Park was a double dose of good news for nature lovers and for those who cherish the preservation of precious open space.

In making good on a 4-year-old promise, the Irvine Co. has made this rare reserve accessible to the public through tours. It was part of a laudable agreement signed in 1992 with the Nature Conservancy, a nonprofit conservation organization, to preserve and protect natural resources as well as to provide public access. The opening of the reserve's Emerald Canyon portion originally had been scheduled for last October, but it was postponed because of the wildfires that destroyed an estimated 80% of it.

The ambitious program began last year with the opening of Limestone Canyon to tours, and is expected to be completed this fall with the opening of 2,800 acres in the Weir/Gypsum Canyon.

It is heartening to learn from advance touring of the Emerald Canyon section that nature is on the rebound in the affected areas. Fields of purple wild hyacinths, red Indian paintbrushes and yellow California sunflowers have appeared in an area that was black and barren only last fall. And there are now red-tailed hawks, meadowlarks, bobcats and mule deer. The ability of nature to recover, evident in the spring of a new year, has to be a heartening sight after the fires in 1993.

The vastness of the open space in close proximity to the suburban sprawl of Southern California serves as a reminder of the natural beauty of the land around us. The Irvine Co. and the Nature Conservancy have done good work pioneering in such set-asides, and they have been key players in the state's habitat protection program. Such preserves remind us of the need to protect natural resources from overdevelopment.

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