Editorial: Thanks to Walk veterans

Twenty years ago Wednesday, a sea change of attitudes about preservation gelled into the largest public showing of support for an environmental cause "” or any other cause "” in Orange County.

Some 8,000 to 10,000 people "” give or take a thousand "” marched up Laguna Canyon Road in 1989 to show their opposition to the impending development of a portion of Laguna Canyon wilderness. And, as they say, nothing was ever quite the same in Laguna Beach.

In a brilliant stroke, local organizers enlisted the voice of Jose Feliciano to rally marchers across the county and beyond in the "grass-roots" effort to halt bulldozers in the canyon.

Artists and photographers created an amazing "archaeological" artifact, "The Tell," an enormous compilation of photos and memorabilia of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who had wonderful memories of time spent in the canyon. Another brilliant stroke.

The cause didn't end with that day of marching feet and moving speeches: a movement was born and along with it, several local groups that have kept up the anti-development and pro-wilderness struggle and have become the chief supporters and foot soldiers as the wilderness became part of the parks system.

Two years after the Walk, Laguna Beach residents voted 80% in favor of a $20-million local bond to buy Irvine Co. land in Laguna Canyon.

The result is the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park that we enjoy today "” the second-largest coastal canyon preserve in Southern California, and part of a 20,000-acre wilderness "” and the idea that "greenbelts" are as important for a community's health as sewers and schools.

The Laguna Canyon Conservancy, Laguna Greenbelt Inc. and Laguna Canyon Foundation all came out of the early work of preservationists such as the late Jeannette and James Dilley, who shared a dream of a 2,500-acre greenbelt surrounding Laguna Beach.

Their work is carried on by an army of stalwarts whose devotion to the cause of "keeping it wild" has become virtually institutionalized in Laguna and beyond.

On Wednesday, we can all celebrate the remarkable contributions of these parks pioneers and other leaders at a potluck supper sponsored by Endangered Planet Gallery, featuring a presentation by wilderness veteran Harry Huggins, who signed on as official organizer of The Walk to Save the Canyon.

We should also recognize the contributions of our military veterans on that day, when flags will be flying at Laguna Beach City Hall.

A big "thank you" to our veterans who fought to keep America safe "” and the veterans of the battle to save the wilderness.

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