10,000 steps at Mason Regional Park 

On a recent Sunday in between late-winter rainstorms, I spent a sunny morning at Irvine’s 339-acre William R. Mason Regional Park. While in pursuit of 10,000 steps on the park’s meandering, paved walkways, I encountered a number of charming people and scenes. 

Under the shade of a lakeside tree, I met Irvine resident Peter Kruse, 87, who has been visiting Mason Regional Park since it opened in 1973. As one of the Commodores of the Orange County Model Sailing Club, Kruse meets with fellow enthusiasts to sail remote-controlled model yachts on the park’s 9-acre lake.

Karin Gallagher

On Wednesdays the group sails schooners, and on Saturdays they race, but this Sunday was dedicated to sailing 1-meter boats.

While crossing an arched footbridge across the fountained lake, I saw dozens of turtles – also grateful for the respite from the recent rains – sunning themselves atop rocks while geese chased and honked at each other on the nearby grass. I introduced myself to leashed dogs (Hi, Rusty!), seemingly relieved to finally get taken out for a leisurely, sun-soaked walk.

Your choice of fun and games

On one of the park’s large, open fields, I met UCI sophomore Sabrina Le, who, as the director of philanthropy for the school’s Alpha Phi sorority, was hosting members of four UCI fraternities for a spirited game of “bubble soccer” to benefit the American Heart Association. The players are half-encased in inflatable plastic “bubbles” (imagine yourself tucked inside a giant beach ball from the waist up) so they continually bounce off each other, and inevitably the ground, as they play.

After passing the park’s amphitheater, with its small stage and sweeping grassy audience space, I fondly recalled the days when my (now-college-aged) children were young as I observed mothers chasing after excited toddlers, who were themselves chasing after butterflies, in the park’s Butterfly Habitat.

Small groups of people materialized throughout the park during my morning visit: Some playing soccer with pop-up goals, others doing calisthenics and some sharing snacks in folding chairs. The sandy volleyball courts, TimberForm fitness route equipment and numerous horseshoe pits, while inviting, lay dormant on this particular Sunday due to ground moisture yet to evaporate from the recent rains. (The adjacent wilderness park’s sprawling 123 acres of natural space and 3 miles of hiking trails were similarly closed.)

The best picnic shelters

Finally, as I heard the laughter of children enjoying the shaded play structures and riding their tiny bicycles on the paved walkways, I found myself strategizing how I could, on my next visit, host a party at the lovely Mason Regional Park. Its six covered shelters, which can be rented for private events, offer shade, as well as picnic tables, charcoal barbecues, sinks with running water, and electrical outlets, and can accommodate groups of between 50 and 500 people. I’ve got my eye on the picturesque, lakeside shelter No. 3; now all I need to do is come up with a reason. A college graduation celebration, perhaps?

William R. Mason Regional Park, located at 18712 University Drive, between Harvard Avenue and Culver Drive, is open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. in fall and winter and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in spring and summer. Parking is $5 on weekends, $3 on weekdays, and higher for some holidays and events. Annual parking passes are available. Restrooms are clean and well-maintained. Dogs are allowed on leashes of no more than 6 feet. No camping tents or hammocks permitted. To reserve shelters and for more information, go to the OC Parks website at ocparks.com.