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Park blazes a new trail

Mary Fegraus is usually one to avoid the spotlight.

But the spotlight shone on her Saturday at the dedication of “Mary’s Trail” in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. The ceremony was attended by environmental activists, county officials and admirers of Fegraus, the founding executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

“I want to thank Mary for all her work for the past two decades,” Supervisor Pat Bates said. “She helped raise $13 million to enhance, protect and preserve these wild lands. And her trail is the gateway to the wilderness park.”

The trail is an easy, introductory quarter-mile loop for hikers of all ages and abilities. It takes off from the Painter Pier at the Nix Nature Center and links up with the Little Sycamore Canyon Trail, Barbara’s Lake Trail, the James Dilley Preserve — the cradle of the wilderness park acquisitions — and the Stagecoach North Trail.

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“I think Mary was leading us before we even recognized there were leaders in the preservation of Laguna Canyon,” said Harry Huggins, Orange County Parks’ asset manager and organizer of the famous “Walk” in Laguna Canyon in 1989 that led to the city’s acquisition of the first parcel of Laguna Laurel, then an Irvine Co. development.

Laguna Woods Councilman Marty Rhodes, a Laguna Canyon Foundation board member, said the trail dedication was the culmination of Fegraus’ years of leadership that have made the foundation viable.

“She is the glue and the heart and soul of this park,” said Bates’ top staffer, Sergio Prince.

Laguna Canyon Foundation founder and President Michael Pinto said working with Fegraus was the greatest personal and professional relationship he had ever had.

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Pinto, who served as master of ceremonies at the dedication, introduced speakers Mark Denny, director of Orange County Parks; Michael O’Connell, executive director of the Irvine Ranch Conservancy; former Orange County Supervisor Tom Wilson and nature center donor James Nix, all of whom recognized Fegraus’ contributions. Fegraus declined to accept the accolades for herself.

In 2005, when the city called for construction bids to build the Nix Nature Center at the park’s entrance, Orange County Parks Chief of Design Scott Thomas asked that companies include an introductory trail as part of their designs. The trail was later deleted from the requirements.

“He had some wonderful words about the trail, still valid today,” Fegraus said.

Thomas envisioned the trail starting from the Painter Pier, weaving its way through native grassland and wildflower fields, coastal sage scrub and scrub oak forests, arriving at the proposed outdoor gathering area adjacent to the parking lot.

Thomas could foresee visitors being rewarded at the end of the trail with one of the most scenic and inspiring viewpoints in the park — a theater of wilderness overlooking the sycamore woodland of Little Sycamore Creek toward Quail Creek.

The project got back on track in June 2006 when the Irvine Ranch Foundation made a $160,000 donation to the Laguna Canyon Foundation for the trail.

Six months later, momentum picked up with the creation of a trail design team that included Orange County Parks officials Thomas, Ernie Siedel, John Gannaway; Rangers Larry Sweet and Barbara Norton; John Graves and Adam Maywhort from the Irvine Ranch Conservancy; and Bob and Mary Ring from the Laguna Canyon Foundation.

An admitted perfectionist, Fegraus was stunned when then-5th District Supervisor Wilson sprung a surprise announcement into her precisely crafted Nix Nature Center dedication in November 2007. The trail was to be named for Fegraus.

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“Tom has said he will always remember the look on my face when he made the announcement,” Fegraus said. “If I hadn’t been so involved in the center opening, I would have fainted.”

Copies of the trails map are available at the Nix Nature Center. It reinforces the ease of reaching a number of trails from the center, and the color coding will help even the most inexperienced trail user

“The trail is a snapshot of the habitat in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park,” Fegraus said. “For some, it may be their only experience in the park.”



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