This summer, Orange County celebrates the 10th anniversary of its largest land gift.
In all, 20,000 acres of private land became public property – forever.
The gift included Limestone Canyon, with its sandstone cliffs; Fremont Canyon, full of poppies in spring; Weir Canyon, full of deer and oak woodlands; and Black Star Canyon, where golden eagles soar.
The transfer of private land to public hands culminated a decades-long effort by Irvine Company to permanently preserve 60% of its 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch. On the remaining 40%, Irvine Company is master-planning and master-building one of America’s most desirable regions, from Newport Coast to the City of Irvine.
A historic day
About 200 people attended the deed-signing in Augustine Staging Area as Irvine Company Chairman Donald Bren increased OC Parks’ landholdings by more than half – with the stroke of a pen.
Bill Campbell, who was an Orange County Supervisor at the time and now serves on the OC Parks Foundation board, spoke at the event, so we asked him for his perspective on the land, that day, and what it means for Irvine and Orange County.
Can you describe this land?
It has a tremendous diversity. There are parts of the property that remind me of the Grand Canyon. There are parts of it that remind me of Yellowstone.
How big is 20,000 acres?
When I tour the land as part of my role with the Parks Foundation, we’ll spend about five hours exploring a thousand acres of the 20,000 acres, and it feels like we are totally away from everything. So it’s just a huge, huge gift.
How does this benefit residents?
The benefit is we have national park-quality open space in our backyard. People from all over the county can enjoy this land.
The property had tremendous development and economic potential, but this open space is a legacy that will last generations.
What was the event like?
There was just a happy feeling that day. State, county and city officials, volunteers and environmentalists were there, and everyone was so appreciative of Mr. Bren and Irvine Company’s gift. It showed Irvine Company’s tremendous view of the future to see the benefits that this would bring the people of Orange County and California.
Ten years later, what’s happening on the land?
In the coming year, OC Parks will make $435,000 in improvements, including work on Red Rock Trail, North Gypsum Canyon Loop Trail, and the Waterworks Trail.
These improvements are possible due to a $4-million endowment Irvine Company provided to help maintain the land. Most people are aware of the 20,000-acre gift, but few are aware of this endowment.