A walker’s paradise

Editor’s note: This is the first of a regular column that shares with readers cool locations in Irvine to log 10,000 steps – the magic number health care experts say will set people on a path to cardiovascular fitness.

Open from dawn to dusk, seven days a week, the San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is a lush habitat encompassing 321 acres of freshwater wetlands. Home to hundreds of species of plants, birds and other animals – and with a little more than 12 miles of interweaving trails of packed dirt, gravel and a bit of mud – the marsh is a treasure trove of native grandeur in the heart of Irvine. It’s a great place to explore while counting your daily steps. All you’ll need are a sturdy pair of sneakers or hiking shoes, some comfortable clothing for light exercise and a water bottle to stay hydrated.

The sanctuary is located at 5 Riparian View, just north of UC Irvine. You’ll find ample parking and the first stop on your visit: the Audubon House and visitors center. Be sure to grab a map and ask the attendants any questions you may have. Then you’ll be ready to head out!

There’s truly something for everyone here, no matter your fitness level. Jog around the paved perimeter. Take a 10,000-step excursion through the entirety of the park’s intersecting paths. Go for a gentle loop around the ponds to get lost in the forest of your thoughts. Or trek to a new favorite bench overlooking the rich wetlands.

Ponds and pelican pods

Many wild neighbors await your arrival. You might see the ospreys perched high in their nest overlooking Pond 5 or spot a pelican pod resting on the sandbanked island at Pond 3. You may even spy a shy turtle peeking above the gentle ripples of water. And there are plenty of rabbits, squirrels and other critters skittering under the warm sun as hawks soar overhead, searching for a midday snack. Meanwhile, ducks quack as they scour the riverbeds for their next meal. Be sure to pause to take it all in – and notice how the ponds mirror the endless sky above. A stroll through here, and one forgets the business of the day.

Cedar waxwing perched on a toyon berry tree.

Deeper than the water’s surface

But the beauty of the San Joaquin Marsh runs deeper than the water’s surface. The sanctuary acts as a critical component to the health of our region by cleaning urban runoff from the San Diego Creek. Various pollutants are removed from the water as it interacts with the bulrush reeds and other indigenous plants over the span of two to four weeks, eventually rejoining the creek and moving on to the environmentally sensitive Upper Newport Bay.

Nature, an unending gift

The words of President Theodore Roosevelt certainly ring true here: “We have fallen heirs to the most glorious heritage a people ever received, and each one must do his part if we wish to show that the nation is worthy of its good fortune.” Nature is an unending gift, revealing bountiful beauty and innovative intelligence in every discovery. The San Joaquin Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is just one example of how humans can partner with nature to create a better place.

William Schmidt Boger, of Cypress Village, enjoys exploring Irvine’s open spaces.