Few bank giveaway programs pay the kind of dividend that hikers in Brea’s Carbon Canyon Regional Park get from one held decades ago.
At the end of a dusty, 1.12-mile nature trail beckons the welcome shade of Southern California’s largest grove of coastal redwoods (sequoia sempervirens).
The trees are comparative saplings by the redwood standard so many remember: the famous “drive-through” giant sequoia (sequoiadendron giganteum) at Yosemite National Park, which fell over in 1969 in a heavy snowstorm.
The tallest of the Brea redwoods, planted in 1975 for the park’s opening, stands at more than 100 feet. The 200 or so trees are what’s left of 600 seedlings donated to the county after the bank promotion in 1970.
The largest of the redwoods in Northern California, by comparison, towers to 368 feet, with a 22-foot diameter trunk.
The 10-acre local grove is the reward for strolling to the end of the park’s nature path, a well-maintained trail that starts at a grove of Monterey pines -- which began life in a Christmas tree lot.
The Carbon Canyon Creek Nature Trail is open as weather permits. It is marked by 14 numbered stakes, which correspond to points of interest in a brochure available at the park entrance.
There were few people sharing the trail with rabbits, squirrels and birds on a recent weekday morning. Low clouds clung to hillsides -- a necessity for the thirsty redwoods. The trees thrive in Northern California’s coastal coolness but would perish in Southern California’s arid climate without their twice-daily automatic watering.
The morning offered a hint of the midday heat to come. The air was alive with chirps and cheeps and flutters, its scent heavy with the tangy musk of new growth.
Though Carbon Canyon Regional Park’s entrance is well-manicured, its 124 acres abut the 13,000-acre wilderness of Chino Hills State Park. Hikers are warned at the trailhead about encountering coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes -- even an occasional mountain lion.
After a short hop over Carbon Canyon Creek -- a full leap when it’s brimming with water -- hikers continue past marked stands of hemlock, castor bean, wild buckwheat, toyon, white sage and poison oak.
Adding an exotic touch to the walk are massive clumps of arundo bamboo and elderberry.
About 20 minutes down the trail, the redwood grove pops into view, as still and straight as church spires.
Guillermo and Marissa Hernandez had gotten there first. They roamed through the grove, smiling.
The young Fullerton couple make the trek at least once a week, preferring weekdays when the park is mostly deserted.
“It’s so quiet now,” Marissa Hernandez said. “That’s why we like it.”
The only obstacle to the sense of serenity and escape is a neighborhood of tract homes built atop the adjacent hills in the late 1990s. The backyards look directly over the grove.
Last year, 166,393 people visited the park. Most, however, never ventured to the end of the nature trail.
“A lot of people don’t even know about the redwoods,” park technician Corinne Conard said. “They’re really a diamond in the rough.”
The trees represent a shrinking state resource. About 96% of old-growth redwoods have been logged in California. Of the remaining old-growth forests, 45% are preserved in Redwoods National and State Park in Crescent City in Northern California.
By an odd circumstance, another, smaller, grove of redwoods exists in Orange County, at UC Irvine. The trees were the result of a former professor’s experiment in tree cloning. About 300 trees produced in test tubes were planted on the campus in 1982, but most died after gophers destroyed the underground watering system.
Carbon Canyon Regional Park is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. through Oct. 31; from Nov. 1 through March 31, it closes at 6 p.m. Parking costs $2 on weekdays, $4 on weekends and $5 on major holidays.
Larger groups wanting to join the park’s only guided nature hike -- at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays -- are encouraged to call the park office in advance: (714) 973-3160.