The Picnic Grounds at Irvine Regional Park have been a popular gathering spot for more than a century. In 1897, Irvine Company donated them, with 160 acres of oak groves, to create the state’s first regional park.

Irvine time capsule

by Ellen Bell

Ellen Bell, president of the Irvine Historical Society

When you live in Irvine, nature is never far away. One of our most precious local natural preserves is Irvine Regional Park, which was created because James H. Irvine (1867-1947) wanted to save the trees.

Irvine was an avid outdoorsman who loved the vast open space on The Irvine Ranch. One of his favorite spots was a grove of live oak trees at the mouth of Santiago Canyon. The grove was a popular recreation destination known locally as “The Picnic Grounds.”

As the grove’s popularity increased, Irvine worried about the safety of the century-old trees. So
in 1897, he directed Irvine Company to provide 160 acres of oak groves to the County of Orange as a “Gift Munificent.” On Oct. 5, the county treasury paid Irvine Company $1, and Orange County Park was born.

Irvine insisted that a full-time caretaker be hired to monitor activities in the park. There would be
absolutely no harvesting of the trees, and the park was to be kept in as natural a state as possible.

In 1926, Orange County supervisors renamed it Irvine Regional Park, creating the first regional park in California, home to some of the oldest coast live oaks in Orange County.

Today, Irvine’s spirit of natural preservation lives on. More than 57,500 acres of open space have been preserved on The Irvine Ranch, making it easy for residents to connect with nature.

Ellen Bell is an Orange County historian and author of “Irvine: Images of America.”