BY TRACY CHILDS
Trails of all types and lengths crisscross much of the 57,000 preserved acres on The Irvine Ranch. Some of the most popular ones began as backcountry roads, traveled in bygone days by ranch hands in pickup trucks. Through creativity and hard work, Irvine Ranch Conservancy managers and volunteers converted them to single-track trails to enhance local outdoor experiences. We asked Conservancy Executive Director Michael O’Connell to describe one of his favorites :
Which road-turned-trail should we try?
One of my favorites is the Dripping Springs trail in OC Parks’ 4,000-acre Limestone Canyon Nature Preserve. This was formerly a wide dirt road cutting down from the ridgeline through the oak woodlands — a decent road, but not a great trail.
The Conservancy restored native habitat along both sides of the former road to narrow it to a four-foot-wide path for hiking, biking and equestrian use. We also realigned a few sections to make them more sustainable and removed more than 6,000 non-native Italian thistle plants.
What challenges did you face?
It was difficult because the road was so compacted from decades of vehicle traffic. The work was led by Conservancy Community Stewardship staff, but most of it was done by volunteers and community members.
Once the restoration started, we couldn’t drive vehicles on it, so volunteers had to carry in thousands of seedlings grown on the Conservancy’s Native Seed Farm, along with water to irrigate them. This continued for many months while we converted the road into the trail, which is more than a mile long.
What does the Dripping Springs trail offer?
The old ranch road that was built just to get from here to there is now a shady, intimate trail that leads to one of the many special places on the Irvine Ranch. Dripping Springs is one of two permanent springs in Limestone Canyon. It has a beautiful grotto and small pool with ferns and shady live oaks, and even a species of native orchid.
The spring is deep in the heart of Limestone Canyon and is an important resource for wildlife, especially in late summer when water is scarce. For this reason the trail is not open every day but can be visited on monthly Wilderness Access Days and in between with volunteer-led interpretive programs.
Visit www.letsgooutside.org to sign up for a Dripping Springs hike, a Limestone Wilderness Access Day, or any of the more than 2,000 free programs offered each year by Irvine Ranch Conservancy and its partners on the land.