Irvine Ranch Conservancy (IRC) and its land partners, OC Parks, the City of Irvine, and City of Newport Beach, have taken advantage of the COVID-19 shutdown to make improvements to the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks and rehabilitate areas damaged by recent wildfires. With over 40,000 acres of land on the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks and countless plant and animal species, these wildlands are an important part of Orange County’s natural habitat.
In recent years, increased wildfire danger has become more of a threat to the Landmarks, with fires occurring 90% more frequently than natural return intervals of 70 to 150 years. On October 26, 2020, the Silverado Fire burned about 12,466 acres of land in Orange County, damaging infrastructure and natural habitats on the Landmarks. Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, public activities have been halted, meaning IRC staff are able to restore the damaged infrastructure at a quicker pace, while also improving areas of the Landmarks for future public enjoyment.
“Due to the temporary land closures and halt of public activities, Irvine Ranch Conservancy’s Infrastructure and Planning Crew have been able to access areas of the Landmarks more frequently than ever before,” said Adam Maywhort, Director of Planning & Infrastructure at Irvine Ranch Conservancy. “Our team has been able to accelerate improvements to public access areas on the Landmarks and focus heavily on wildfire recovery efforts.”
Located in Trabuco Canyon, the Portola Staging Area was one of the areas damaged by the Silverado Fire, which destroyed 80% of the staging area. Since then, IRC’s Infrastructure and Planning Crew has rebuilt the staging area with enhancements including improving the size of the staging area, vegetation rehabilitation and upgrading public amenities. Unique to the staging area is the Portola Bike Skills Course, which introduces visitors to mountain biking before riding on trails. For the past year, IRC has been building a new course with pre-engineered ramps, training features, and natural surface features. With the new course 90% complete, IRC staff looks forward to welcoming the public to the new bike skills course when it is safe to do so.
In addition to the Portola Staging Area, the Red Rock Staging Area recently underwent improvements, in order to bring the area up to date with newer staging areas on the Landmarks. Improvements included a modified footprint for the staging area, ADA parking, an ADA path leading to the staging area and trailhead, and restroom enhancements.
Also burned during the Silverado Fire were two 40-foot trail bridges and the two viewing decks at The Sinks in OC Parks’ Limestone Canyon. With plans for a complete rebuild of the bridges and viewing decks in 2021, the structures will be made of mostly fireproof materials. The trail system leading to The Sinks viewing decks will also be converted to a one-way trail system to make for easier traffic flow for visitors.
“The new bridges will have a concrete foundation with steel stringers and wood decking, while the new viewing decks will increase in size to allow for easier distancing and be made with a steel foundation and wood decking,” said Maywhort. “If fire comes through this area again, the steel and concrete structuring should remain intact and the wood decking on top will be the only part that would need to be replaced.”
In Weir Canyon, a completely new viewing deck will be constructed along the Overlook Trail. Projected for completion in late 2021, the 24-foot diameter deck will have a 110-foot-long trail leading to an outlook where visitors will experience a 360-degree view of Weir Canyon, Gypsum Canyon and the Cleveland National Forest.
“The Overlook Trail deck will be an architecturally beautiful wood deck with interpretive handles that will give visitors more information about the surrounding areas,” said Maywhort. “This deck will provide a truly unique experience and on a clear day, you might even be able to see the Hollywood Sign.”
Continuing their work in Newport Beach’s Buck Gully Reserve, the IRC Infrastructure and Planning team completed a sediment removal project to restrict sediment flow out into the ocean. The process involved clearing a 50-foot-wide spectrum of sediment, redistributing the sediment, and clearing off four gabions so that they can contain sediment for a substantial number of years before the process will need to be repeated. IRC will continue to make improvements to the Buck Gully trail system over the next few years.
For more information about Irvine Ranch Conservancy and the Irvine Ranch Natural Landmarks, visit IRConservancy.org.