A peaceful oasis amid a bustling city

Miles of coastal scrub-lined trails winding around the San Joaquin Marsh ponds were the perfect setting on Earth Day for some 30 hikers to take part in a community walk.

The event was a partnership between the Irvine Ranch Water District, which owns the land, and the city of Irvine in observance of the national day.

"We are one of the nation's leaders in stewardship," Mayor Sukhee Kang said before setting out on one of the twelve miles of trails on Saturday.

"The preservation of 16,000 acres is a giant step and commitment to the environment," Kang continued as reference to the city's total acreage of preserved open space. "It's a stewardship that we all share."

The San Joaquin Marsh sits on 325 acres of marsh land and is nearly invisible, tucked away off of University Drive, where it sits alongside corporate offices in the Irvine Business Complex.

However, thousands of visitors find their way to the marsh and wildlife sanctuary every year, either by fortuitous accident or by attending one of the IRWD's many youth and adult educational opportunities, said IRWD Board President Mary Aileen Matheis.

"If anyone wants a quiet oasis in the middle of a busy city, this is it," Matheis said.

Over 300 species of birds, many endangered, make their home in the marshland, she said.

The walk did not go the whole length of the twelve miles of trails—although the IRWD has visitor maps if a hiker was so inclined—but focused instead on introducing the participants to the various bird and plant life spotted along the paths.

Docents pointed out Bush Sunflower and Cottonwood plants, egrets, the Western Fence Lizard and other flora and fauna.

Among the participants, resident Nancy Woo attended the first of the quarterly community walks at Orchard Hill about four years ago.

She has been an avid supporter ever since, she said.

"It gives you the opportunity to get out in the community, meet other residents and get to know the area," Nancy Woo said. "We have these great amenities, but sometimes it can be a bit intimidating to go out on your own."

The walk was also part of Irvine's Healthy City Healthy Planet initiative, which aims to integrate services and programs that promote wellness, health and sustainability under one banner.


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