SAVE OUR CANYONS WALK 17 YEARS LATER:Walking the walk

Today, a panoramic black-and-white poster featuring a crowd of people hangs on the wall above Charles Michael Murray's desk.

Tomorrow, faces from that poster will join new ones in front of the Festival of Arts grounds to hold a reenactment of the 1989 Save Our Canyons Walk.

The original event, which had been Orange County's largest environmental protest, proved to be a catalyst in protecting Laguna Canyon from development by the Irvine Co.

"A lot of people don't really understand how we have the luxury of this canyon," Murray said. "[The walk] ultimately protected the true paradise and jewel that we have in Orange County, and raised the awareness that people can make a difference."

As the concept creator for the original event, he was responsible for increasing public awareness, so he coordinated a radio campaign whereby a 30-second spot was played on 11 stations at least once an hour for three days.

"It had a psychological impact before the event," said Harry Huggins, original executive director of the event.

Murray found out what radio station was played in the Irvine Co. offices and chose it, along with 10 others, for the broadcast.

Some people from the Irvine Co. walked with other activists that day, Murray recalled.

Grammy Award-winning singer and guitarist Jose Feliciano narrated the announcement and dropped the names of several celebrities like Bette Midler and John Denver who had endorsed the campaign.

"Remember — once it's gone, it's gone forever," he intoned.

Feliciano recorded it the day of a City Council meeting, Murray recalled; he picked the tape up at 4:30 p.m. and ran it to the meeting with a boom box. He handed it to Huggins, who played it during the open mic portion of the meeting.

From there, it was off to the radio waves.

"It was so contagious," Murray said.

"It had everyone excited about going," Huggins said. "Although only 8,000 people showed up, a good many more had wanted to be there, but the importance of the 8,000 brought the Irvine Co. to a realization that more energy was behind the protest than had been estimated."

The company later went into negotiations to relinquish the properties in question.

There are parcels that have yet to be acquired, Huggins said, but four are in the process right now along Laguna Canyon Road.

"The city continues to be exemplary in its acquisition of open space," Huggins said, but he cited the need for future conservation efforts.

He, Murray and fellow organizers will honor both the walk and area veterans at Saturday's event.

At 8:30 a.m., Veterans of Foreign Wars member Ben Blount, who participated in the Normandy invasion in World War II, will introduce other VFW and American Legion members.

Toni Iseman, who was an organizer of the original walk, will speak along with Laguna Canyon Conservancy organizers. There will also be a group picture opportunity.

Afterward, visitors will walk, run or bike to the new Nix Nature Center, about five miles up Laguna Canyon Road. Attendees are invited to wear something that honors veterans or is from the original Walk. There will be no police escorts or closed lanes.

Another group picture will be taken at the nature center, which will not be open for visitors that day.

That evening, Murray will open his Endangered Planet Gallery at 384 Forest Ave., Suite 13, for a potluck reception. Guests are asked to bring a dish for four to share; multimedia presentations and a talk by Mark Chamberlain will be held.

Chamberlain created "The Tell," an art piece on Laguna Canyon Road that became the meeting site of the original walk.

"It's a unique thing that we still hold potlucks and the general public shows up and participates in a very commendable way," Huggins said.

People close to the original walk have celebrated it annually in their own ways. "I recognize it personally every year," Huggins said.

He hinted at a major event in 2009, the walk's 20th anniversary.

"The effect man has had on Laguna Canyon is not irreversible," Huggins said. "It's just going to take a few years."

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