County Parks May Get By With a Little Help From Friends

Rick VanderKnyff is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff.

Outdoor enthusiasts have been justifiably concerned about the effects of Orange County's bankruptcy on the county's regional park system, which includes such wilderness gems as Whiting Ranch, Caspers and Laguna Coast.

Specifics are still lacking, but it appears obvious there will be changes. Some rangers could lose their jobs; fees could rise, parks could be closed on a rotating basis. Privatization advocates have proposed selling park land.

"We don't know what they're going to be, but there are going to be changes," said Patrick Henry, an organizer of the Orange County Trails Coalition.

Park users need to show their support now more than ever, he added.

"It's 'come forward and help, or lose it.' In Orange County, we've had it too easy for too long."

Henry asks for more volunteers to help repair and maintain trails. Such assistance would not only have the practical benefits of helping parks battered by recent rains and by shrinking resources. It would also send a message to county officials that residents consider their parks a valuable part of their lives.

"With this bankruptcy, volunteerism is more important than ever," Henry said. His group is also working to get local businesses more involved in the efforts, specifically businesses that benefit from the local availability of prime parkland--bike and hiking shops, tack and feed stores.

Trail volunteer events are held by a variety of groups year-round. Some require only a limited time commitment; many mountain bike events, for instance, combine a half hour or less of trail work with a group ride through the park.

Henry suggests contacting local bike and hiking shops for information on upcoming trail events. Potential volunteers can also call SHARE, one of the most active local groups, (714) 222-3334, or Henry himself, (714) 890-3925.

Looking ahead, the county's major trail-support event, Orange County Trail Awareness Day (sponsored by Shimano) is coming on May 20. Henry has information on this too.


Parts of one of Orange County's state parks, meanwhile, remain closed because of storm damage. The back country of Crystal Cove--essentially, anything on the inland side of Coast Highway--remains mostly off limits.

Mostly . There will be a chance to get into El Moro Canyon on Saturday with a walk organized by the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Trip leader Sarah Jayne said her excursions are geared to novices and can be a great introduction to local plants and to the organization.

Don't expect a workout, however. "My walk is a plant walk and is not a walk for gung-ho exercise," Jayne said. "Plant walking is almost as slow as bird-watching." Participants can expect to see early blooming bulbs, native grasses and some of the usual plants of the coastal sage scrub community.

The Crystal Cove walk is usually held monthly, but this is the first since the park was closed. Group size is limited, and reservations are required for the 9 a.m. event. A $5 parking fee is required (the finicky machine prefers crisp $1 and $5 bills). For reservations or information, Jayne's at (714) 552-0691.


A final note: The Bicycle Club of Irvine holds its annual Shamrock Century and Fun Ride on Saturday. Options include a 42-mile Santiago Canyon loop (starts between 7 and 8 a.m.), a 22-mile Back Bay loop (9 to 10 a.m. start) and a 34-mile Santa Margarita Parkway ride (10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.). The routes connect, for those who want to do them all.

Registration opens at 6 a.m. Fees are $25 for the whole shebang, $19 for any of the shorter loops ($10 more for a T-shirt). For details, call (714) 553-6944.

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