Tiny bird ends Civil War in Costa Mesa

One year ago, Union and Confederate armies descended upon Costa Mesa’s Fairview Park to exchange harmless volleys of musket fire.

It was the sixth annual Battle of Costa Mesa, a Civil War reenactment event on May 3 and 4 that drew thousands of participants and spectators into the park to witness living history.

But now, in what would have been its seventh year, the Battle of Costa Mesa is no more. As it turned out, neither the North or South brought an end to the faux conflict.

Rather, it was the California gnatcatcher — a tiny songbird — and the environmental regulations surrounding it that primarily swayed the Civil War enthusiasts from using the 208-acre park.

Or, in the words of Scott Peca, Battle of Costa Mesa organizer, that little bird “sideswiped” their event.

“It was just a mess,” he said in an interview this week. “We were thrown too many hurdles with the environmentalists [for us to] want to come back.”

The California gnatcatcher is considered a threatened species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Because gnatcatchers are known to nest in Fairview Park in the springtime, City Hall must comply with various environmental regulations for gnatcatchers and other birds, said Dan Baker, Costa Mesa’s public affairs manager.

Those rules include conducting a field study to verify where the birds nest. Baker noted that if a gnatcatcher were found nesting in an area of Fairview that the reenactors wanted to use, they would need to adjust their plans.

Last year’s study, however, did not find any gnatcatchers in the area.

When it comes to enforcing the regulations, however, Baker noted that the Battle of Costa Mesa wasn’t singled out. All large-scale events in Fairview Park are susceptible to such rules, including the Community Run, Fish Fry and Carnival and Concerts in the Park.

Other problems included a miscommunication between City Hall and the reenactors regarding cannon fire. City officials said they were allowed to shoot muskets but not cannons.

Peca contends that they were given permission, albeit at the last minute, to shoot cannons — which they did.

A city park ranger monitored the event for the first time. Peca said she was polite, but things became problematic with traffic controls and reenactors smoking their pipes and cigarettes.

Smoking was prohibited; Peca thought that was ridiculous.

“We already have the smoke from the campfires,” he said. “What’s the deal with the smoke from a cigar or a pipe?”

The ranger, who found leftover trash in the park, gave the reenactors a bad report afterward. Costa Mesa police also received noise complaints — likely from the bursting cannons. The O.C. Marathon occurred that same weekend as well, bringing with it closed roads that caused fewer people to attend the event.

The Battle of Costa Mesa started in 2009, using a small section of Fairview Park. By 2014, it grew to bring more than 300 reenactors taking up most of the grassy developed portion off Placentia Avenue, as well as the nearby fields for battles.

City Hall even promoted it. The Costa Mesa Historical Society was also involved.

In the future, however, Peca said the reenactors are not inclined to return to Fairview Park.

On Saturday, rather than Costa Mesa, they’ll be staging everything at the Providential Heritage Academy at Mile High Ranch in Cherry Valley, a small mountain community in Riverside County. They’re calling it the Battle of New Market, named after an 1864 conflict in Virginia.

Proceeds benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.

“We have all the land we want,” Peca said. “We don’t have to worry about anyone cramping our style.”