Open spaces of Laguna


I dream of open spaces. Large tracts of land unencumbered by

roads, housing, skyscrapers or the pollution of industry. I dream of

rivers that run freely without the stricture of dams. I dream of palm


covered islands fragrant with frangipani and plumerias. I dream of

desert dunes resplendent in wind-swept formations. I dream of the

earth in harmony and balance with its wild creatures: the fox, the

lion, the deer, the mouse, the gnatcatcher and others.


I dream these things because they feed my soul. Mine and the soul

of mankind. Henry David Thoreau wrote, “In Wildness Is the

Preservation of the World,” and his words speak to us all.

What wonder. A walk in the woods. To clear the mind of worry and

strain. To stretch the legs and limbs and bring fresh oxygen deep

into the lungs. To listen to the soft calling of the canyon wren or

the overhead cry of a red-tail hawk. This possibility, this satisfied

yearning, found here, in our own backyard. For we Lagunans have a


rich luxury, the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, in our midst. We have

trails to hike or bike or ride, wildlife to observe and coastal fauna

to enjoy.

Dedicated in April 1993, the 6,600 acre Laguna Wilderness Park

lies at the heart of the 19,000-acre South Coast Wilderness system of

parks, preserves and marine sanctuaries. The first lands were

purchased with funds the Laguna voters committed through the passage

of a $20 million tax bond in 1990. Other lands have been transferred


to the system through development agreements.

The park is managed by the County of Orange, Harbors, Beaches and

Parks, and supported by three nonprofit organizations, Laguna

Greenbelt Inc., The Nature Conservancy and Laguna Canyon Foundation.

The park shares borders with Crystal Cove State Park (managed by the

state of California) a spot of Laguna Open Space and the Irvine

Company Open Space Reserve (managed by the Nature Conservancy of the

park include).

As the first in a flurry of winter storms edged in on Saturday

afternoon, Steve and I enjoyed the company of Park Ranger Barbara

Norton on a brief tour of the park.

Barbara, a local resident, has what she describes as a “dream

job.” A former PTA mom with the Laguna school system, she turned her

love of the outdoors into a successful ranger application. She got

her current assignment after earning her stripes in the Huntington

Beach system. Barbara has cropped sandy hair, a wide, inviting smile

and an infectious love of “her” park.

Barbara works with Senior Park Ranger Larry Sweet and grounds

keeper Ray Davis. Their job is multifaceted and all encompassing.

Besides manning the visitor’s center at the Park Office, they oversee

trail maintenance and rehabilitation, signage and directional issues,

first aid concerns, enforcement of regulations and stewarding of

wildlife and the coastal plant community.

Wildlife corridors -- underpasses beneath the hulking concrete

frame of the 73 Toll Road -- are some of the areas of their concern.

These corridors are basically designed to prevent road kill. Walking

an area known as the El Morro sliver with Barbara, we were stunned to

see that residential development combined with Caltrans fencing has

narrowed the corridor to less than 10 feet. Terrified deer have been

seen bashing themselves against the fence with little to no room for

escape. It is hoped that an agreement between the transportation

agencies to move the fence and allow a wider berth can be completed


Barbara dropped us on the ridge and we headed down Emerald Canyon

to a misty vista of the Pacific. Screeching blue scrub jays danced

between the canyon trees. Stately sycamores, some more than 125 years

old, dropped their golden leaves onto our path. An acorn woodpecker,

his brilliant red head stark against the deep green of the wild oak,

hammered against its woody trunk. Crossing Old Emerald to Bommer

Ridge, tracks of deer, coyote and rabbit mingled with hiking boot

prints and bike tires, proof of the nature of the shared space.

Heavy clouds darkened the horizon as we edged ourselves back to

the park headquarters. A flutter of wrentits chased tiny insects on

tree branches and an Anna’s hummingbird swooped down to eye level.

Magic so close to home.

May your holidays be filled with the love of family and friends,

and perchance, the wondrous gift of a walk on the wild side.

* CATHARINE COOPER is a local designer, photographer and writer

who thrives off beaten trails. She can be reached at or (949) 497-5081.