Bren Foundation helps boys and girls discover open space

‘Nature in My Backyard’ outing held on The Irvine Ranch open space

by Irvine Standard Staff

As her sneakers made soft crunching sounds on the wilderness trail located just a few minutes from the noise and distractions of city life, the 9-year-old girl quietly took in the world around her.

“I don’t go on hikes that much,” Norah Taketani confided to her friend after they had learned all about trees in the second “Nature in My Backyard” outing hosted by Irvine Ranch Conservancy and sponsored by Irvine Company and Donald Bren Foundation.

Norah was one of over twenty youngsters from the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Ana who explored OC Parks’ Baker Canyon, a vibrant area of the nearly 60,000 acres of preserved wildlands on The Irvine Ranch. 

The Oct. 6 outing followed a successful pilot program in April that was created to instill in youth a love of nature and to teach them the importance of preserving and protecting natural open space that is located just minutes from their hometowns.

The adventure was a rare respite from the digital distractions of modern life, and a chance to become students of the outdoors.

“It was very interesting to see the world around me and see what has lived there and what has been there and what has changed,” Sarah, a fourth-grader, said after the 3 ½-hour excursion under cool skies, the smell of California sagebrush pleasingly pungent following a recent rain.

Becoming a Dendrochronologist

Ashley Tirona, an interpretive specialist with IRC, helped the youngsters become young dendrochronologists – scientists who use tree rings to answer questions about the natural world.

The youngsters, ranging in age from 6 to 12, filled out a “tree memory” field journal, describing what a tree meant to them, drawing pictures, and learning about the anatomy of trees.

Tirona gave them small, circular cross-sections of oak trees — she calls them “tree cookies’’ — from nearby Limestone Canyon to study.

“It smells like syrup,” one youngster said.

The children then played a game, with different-colored chips signifying water, air, nutrients and such, to learn about what trees need in order to live and some things that threaten them.

Kayden Vo, 9, a fourth-grader, said the tree game was his favorite part of the day, and that he would recommend that his friends come out and enjoy Baker Canyon and other areas of The Irvine Ranch.

“In the wilderness,” Kayden said, “you can see everything.”

‘Nature in my backyard’ participants learn about the life cycle of trees and the nutrients they need to survive.

A Unique Gift

Michael O’Connell, executive director of Irvine Ranch Conservancy, said he hopes the kids were inspired by what they saw, and that they develop a lasting relationship with The Irvine Ranch’s permanently preserved wildlands.

“What a unique gift we have here in Orange County,” O’Connell said.

Robert Santana, CEO of Boys and Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, said the children were amazed that such natural beauty is accessible within just a short drive.

“They’re excited to return with friends and family,” Santana said.

For information about volunteer and outdoor programs managed by the IRC, visit


A full one-third of Irvine is permanently designated as protected open space.

In 1988, as part of Irvine’s master planning efforts, the city and Irvine Company developed the landmark Open Space Agreement. This first-of-its-kind pact ultimately led to the permanent preservation of over 57,000 acres of wilderness areas and natural ecosystems. Irvine Company also has contributed $50 million to ensure the long-term stewardship of these lands.

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