Using an enormous pair of scissors that said "Newport Beach" on them, city officials and Irvine Ranch Conservancy representatives cut a blue ribbon and opened the Buck Gully Reserve open space and trails at a noon ceremony Wednesday at the trail head near Fifth and Poppy avenues.
"This is a big thing to me," Mayor Nancy Gardner told a group of about 60 residents and city staff and officials. "It's great to have this resource where from dawn to dusk you can come out to hike and run into a raccoon or a bobcat."
City Manager Dave Kiff told the group the history of the area, which was part of the city's annexation of Newport Coast in 2002. Three years later, he said, the county quitclaimed the canyon portion of Buck Gully to the city, and in 2008, the city launched a partnership with the conservancy to manage the area and design and maintain a trail system.
"This was a neighborhood trail," Kiff said. "The neighbors who used it kept it and maintained it as best they could."
But storms caused damage, and the trails became treacherous.
Today, the trails stretch for about three miles from trailhead off Poppy as well as on San Joaquin Hills Road. The hike is moderate to difficult, with some inclines. The trail also incorporates four metal bridges, which were set into place last month by helicopters in a 26-minute operation.
Jenn Starnes, communications manager for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy, said the trails are about 4 feet wide and mostly followed the "social trails" — trails that were created unofficially by hikers and neighbors over the years. Crews moved some of the trails away from Buck Creek to protect hikers and wildlife, she said.
"Wildlife might not be as comfortable going to get a drink with people so close to the creek," she said. "Social trails may not always be best for the environment."
City Councilman Ed Selich, Gardner and Kiff hiked briskly ahead of the crowd after the ceremony, with cyclist Dan Purcell of Corona del Mar taking off even faster on a bicycle. Hikers and cyclists are welcome on the trail, officials said — but not horses or dogs, which could disturb the wildlife. (Dogs will still be permitted to walk the short path from Poppy to the trailhead downhill.)
Others hiked the trail at a slower pace, some with trained docents who pointed out hawks, morning glories, trail improvements and more.
Maudie Whyte, 91, of Costa Mesa, hiked to the first bridge with her son, Jim Whyte, 64, who used to play in the Buck Gully area as a child growing up in Corona del Mar.
"We used to make forts," he said. "It was all cattle, no trees.'
"You could hear them mooing and mooing," Maudie Whyte said. Today original fence posts and wires can still be seen along the path, although most areas feel remote and removed from civilization.
"I think it's beautiful," said Maudie Whyte who hiked to the first bridge and back. "I didn't believe they made such a nice bridge."
"This definitely takes away my private escape, but I'm happy they are saving it," her son said.
Linda Rasner of Corona del Mar had never been in the area before.
"I think it's great," she said. "I thought if I went to the opening, maybe it would inspire me to come back more often."
The trails eventually will have Eagle Scout-made kiosks and markers.
Eventually, the conservancy will organize docent-led hikes that will focus on flowers, night creatures and more.
The trail cost $180,000, half paid by Newport Beach and the rest funded with grant money. The conservancy has a longterm contract to maintain the Buck Gully trails.