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Imagine space: with the 50-year anniversary of Apollo 11 celebrated just last month, perhaps in your mind you see the astronauts walking on the moon, including Laguna Beach local Buzz Aldrin.

Imagine space: space for safety, as you drive, between you and the car in front of you, or your personal space that you hope others don’t invade.

Imagine OPEN space. What comes to mind? If you are a hiker, biker, photographer, equestrian, naturalist, dog lover who enjoys dog-friendly places, or even someone who lives near the wilderness, you’re probably thinking of Aliso and Wood Canyons and Laguna Coast Wilderness Parks and Crystal Cove State Park. These open spaces surround us with beautiful hills of biodiverse wildlife habitat and are home to a plethora of animals, including deer, bobcats, weasels, lotus hairstreak butterflies, and red-tailed hawks, to name a few.

A couple of months ago, a hiker and biker got into a fistfight on the trails. Those that witnessed the results said both ended up bloody and marching toward the ranger station. What was to be a wonderful day out in the wilderness turned into a painful and difficult situation for everyone associated with the scene, including witnesses and rangers.

Sport lovers know that whether in football, basketball or soccer, often it’s not the first player who fouls that gets the penalty called against them, it’s the second, the retaliator. Why? Because that’s what the referee saw. So does it really matter who was the initial offender? In the end, both engaged.

How can we create space for each other in the wilderness and on the trails? I asked our volunteers – both hikers and bikers – what their reactions were when they learned about this fight. Comments include:

“… the precedent has been set that MTBs [mountain bikers] are a danger to other users and impact the land far more negatively than any other user. I would like to see an MTB culture that values giving back to the land …”

“… I like to walk my dogs on the trails, but we only stay on dog friendly trails like Westridge and Aswut, and I pick up after my dogs. Just abiding by the rules and being friendly to all goes a long way for everyone enjoying the trails.”

 “… I have seen bikers waiting patiently at the top of 5 Oaks for hikers to clear the trail prior to beginning their downhill run. I’ve watched in envy the banking of turns and getting air and the big smiles and acknowledging thanks from the bikers as they quickly go by the hikers…”

“… as bikers are approaching, I’ve witnessed other hikers stand their ground in the middle of the trail to make an unnecessary point that they have the right-of-way. It created a weird and intensely claustrophobic situation, like something’s gonna blow and I can’t get away…”

Non-Dot, which dedicated a newsletter about the fistfight, encouraged its members to “… say hello to everyone you come across … slow up and communicate! Remember, there is a 10 MPH speed limit in the parks. While it may not make sense to mountain bikers, this limit is put into place for the safety of all users. We need to be in control and be able to stop at a moment’s notice. Give compliments when you are passing on a climb. Make sure the horses see you, stop as needed and get off the bike if needed.”

One of our amazing and dedicated volunteers, Jeremy Carver, commented: “Marin County, the birth place of MTB, is an example of when the MTB Community doesn’t address the perception that we are just a bunch of hooligans. The Marin County community has virtually banned MTB from everything but a few fire roads.”  Jeremy continues: “If I want an active voice, I not only need to be a steward of the trails but also understand the mission of those overseeing the land.”

Larry Clemons, another long-time volunteer, with hundreds of volunteer hours served, shared, “What do I do as a volunteer? I smile and acknowledge everyone I come across on the trail. I move out of the way and let others go by, regardless of if they are a hiker or a biker. I share the trail, especially with equestrian riders. If on a bike, I stop and move way over to the side of the trail and give that horse plenty of room.”

Space. It’s what we’re all out there for. That and, as Jeremy says, “Friends, community and good laughs.”

Hired last fall as full-time seasonal restoration technicians, Alyssa Moreno and Robin Matthews have become a big part of Laguna Canyon Foundation’s team, bringing expertise and passion to helping us preserve and protect our wilderness. With their last day of the season fast approaching, we wanted to give them a big shoutout and highlight each of their journeys.

I met up with Alyssa at Laguna Canyon Foundation Headquarters, where she was checking the irrigation system on our Laguna Canyon Creek restoration project. Alyssa’s original plan for the day was to work with the Orange County Conservation Corps to continue brushing the trail and completing tread work along the east side of Laguna Canyon Creek and the 133, but the OCCC crew rescheduled. The word “adaptation” comes immediately to mind. Our staff is well aware of how the plants and animals of the coastal sage scrub habitat adapt to survive. In our own work, this is most certainly true as well.

Having participated in the California Conservation Corps herself, Alyssa finds common ground with the Corpsmembers. “I know some of them would prefer not to be here clearing trails, but I also know what an opportunity they have with OCCC to further their education,” she says. “I’ve met some really amazing young folks and have been able to connect with them about the wilderness and about their future.”

What brought Alyssa to Laguna Canyon Foundation and prepared her for restoration, trail and outreach work is multifaceted. Alyssa redefines the definition of “outdoorsy.” She spent five months in the Trinity Alps Wilderness near Mt. Shasta as a backcountry crew member, packing in all of her own equipment and living in a tent with no internet or phone service. “I sent letters from our campsite to my family, literally via mule,” she explained.

Working in the Colorado Rockies, Alyssa was part of a team performing high alpine rock work to build a new trail to Mt. Columbia, a 14,073-foot peak. When asked how the crew relaxed at the end of the day, Alyssa replied, “We didn’t really. When the trail work was done for the day, we would do our camp chores. I cut wood for the fire, helped the camp cook prepare and clean up dinner, and studied American Sign Language with my project partner, who was hearing impaired.”

A graduate of California State University, Long Beach, with a degree in kinesiology, Alyssa continues to use her love of learning to tackle the incredible variety of flora in the biodiverse coastal sage scrub habitat. “Plants, in particular, were something I had little experience with. This year, I was able to plant seedlings in December and see barren ground fill with Bladder Pod, California Bush Sunflower, Evening Primrose and Bush Mallow. I’m learning the natives and invasives and am now pretty well-versed in sharing with public participants the importance of a healthy native habitat.” Often, Alyssa says, the public comments that plants are just plants. “I try to explain that invasive plants like Arundo and Mustard can choke out all the resources native plants need. It’s a domino effect because many of the native animals cannot eat or nest in the invasive plants. Pretty soon, we’d have a monoculture.”

In addition to her many talents, Alyssa is an artist and has designed Laguna Canyon Foundation marketing materials and t-shirts, as well as helped with the organization’s website. When asked about some of her favorite work at Laguna Canyon Foundation? “Trail work…it’s like an art project.”

After spending time with Alyssa, I traveled from Laguna Canyon to Aliso and Wood Canyons along our Pecten Reef restoration project to catch up with Robin. Our Restoration Coordinator, Adam Verrell, was there too. Sporting snake gaiters and lots of sun protection, Robin and Adam were removing invasive plants near the creek.

Around six years ago, Robin and her son, Dustin, took one of Laguna Canyon Foundation’s Native Plant Hikes, an experience Robin will never forget. “I fell in love with the scent of sagebrush and the ‘cowboy cologne’ story.” She also remembers Dustin was not too happy at the naturalist’s warning about ticks along the trail.

Robin took biology courses at Cerritos College and began volunteering at Bolsa Chica Conservancy, doing weed control and trash pick-up. “I also volunteered at the interpretive center on Sunday. I really enjoyed connecting with curious people.”

A single, working, volunteering mom, Robin juggled a lot, and as Dustin got more into sports, “…my Sunday volunteering was superseded by football.”

Robin continued to receive Laguna Canyon Foundation’s e-newsletters and saw the posting for the restoration tech position. After emailing in her application and resume and not receiving a quick response, she made a visit to our offices. “Frankly, after Josie and I met, I think that cinched it. This has been a great move for me.”

Recently, while hosting a restoration event, Robin connected with one of the public volunteers. Robin says, “He talked about his job and while it was financially fulfilling, it didn’t get him outside. He told me how he ended up quitting, opting for day-to-day happiness. There was a mutual understanding between us about the importance of a balanced life.”

Reflecting on her season of work, Robin said, “I love how every day is different, even though the work may be the same. I discover a new insect, new flowers — especially with this rainy season — and meet new people. I am so proud of the progress our plants have made. The restoration sites are a beauty to behold.”

Like her son, Robin is not a fan of the ticks and while she likes cactus for sure, “Planting them can get quite prickly. They’re tough.” In addition to all her restoration work, Robin has pitched in helping with guided hikes.

Adam Verrell, Restoration Coordinator, is now in his second year at Laguna Canyon Foundation. “This year has been remarkably different. My first year, I was doing a lot of the work alone or with contractors. Having Robin and Alyssa and their familiarity with our projects has made the work more effective and rewarding.”

Robin will be finishing up her degree in Environmental Geology at California State University, Long Beach in the fall. Discussions are already taking place about everyone’s plans for the upcoming season, and it is our hope that we have the privilege of working side by side with Robin and Alyssa again next season, protecting what we love.


How do you measure success? Boy, that question can get irksome.

Often we measure success only by what we are able to measure, but that, by definition, can be limiting. Think of the NBA finals: Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors sixth and final game. Final score: Raptors 114; Warriors 110. Boom! Raptors are champions. Clear cut; awesome, end of story. Maybe. But what about the games – up and down the court, trading leads. Wow! And the players’ personal stories of injuries, comebacks and the heart and soul they all left on the court; the fans standing in the rain; the coaches’ leadership; the two national anthems – that is what makes the sport so compelling.

Stats are important, for sure. They decide who wins championships. They reveal just how far an organization has come. As Laguna Canyon Foundation closes its seasonal and fiscal year this month, we’ll be sharing some milestones that truly make us proud, milestones that preserve and protect our wilderness and that our volunteers and supporters help make possible.

This past trail stewardship season, I had the pleasure of attending most of our events. While I am so proud of the work we accomplished, what I will remember most are the people, our volunteers. The staff at Laguna Canyon Foundation has made friends: friends who worked side-by-side with us as we improved a berm, obliterated a social trail, re-seeded impacted areas, and cleared massive overgrowth that had made hiking and riding almost impossible. Our volunteers were thoughtful, supportive and eager to learn. And we all learned from each other.

As we pursued particularly difficult areas of a trail, we had group discussions about the best ways to support our ultimate goal: keep users ON the trails and water OFF. Led by our Restoration Program Director, Alan Kaufmann, we considered brake bumps, sight lines, and where hikers and bikers would likely go. We agreed on a strategy and built our drains, brushed our trails and mitigated erosion.

The hard work was fun and lively as the conversations shifted to college days, an upcoming wedding, or a recent camping trip. We had mountain bike volunteers – McLeods and shovels in hand – ribbing bikers as they rode by to come join us and help improve the trails. We had a father and son team come back time and time again, working four hours and THEN taking a ride. One of our volunteers celebrated a milestone birthday – the big 4-0 – and volunteered on his birthday! A girlfriend of a volunteer came and enjoyed her time so much, she chastised her boyfriend for implying that trail work was just a “guy thing” (she has since become a regular). We had a long-term high school volunteer spread the word and bring countless school buddies who needed to fulfill “mandatory volunteer hours.” (How’s that for an oxymoron?) We had a trail runner who was, in no way, a parasite (see Outside’s controversial article) sweat through four hours of humidity, happily and beautifully brushing a seriously overgrown trail. We had student nurses, also mothers with full-time jobs, find the time to commit a morning to helping on the trails. Corporate groups came out eager to work on the trail each of them frequently used. Recently, one of our long-term volunteers went to a different trailhead, missing the truck ride in, and so, not to be discouraged, ran four miles in to meet us and begin her trail work. Another regular got his certification to become a long-term OC Parks volunteer, completing his orientation, training, and CPR/First Aid requirements.

This past season, hikers, bikers, photographers, runners, naturalists, and first-time trail folks effectively worked together to protect our beautiful wilderness. We will share our awesome year-end stats soon. Getting to know all of them, hearing their stories, learning about their love for the open space has been an unmeasurable privilege and I am so grateful that many of them have signed up to become certified long-term volunteers – upping their commitment to protect what we love.

As we take a hiatus for the hot summer months, I will miss my new friends, but I look forward to seeing them again in the fall.

Each year, OneOC recognizes volunteers for their dedicated service to our community through the Spirit of Volunteerism Awards.

OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation are so grateful for each and every one of our volunteers, working together to preserve and protect this land that we love.

At a luncheon last week, OneOC recognized four of our own.

Kate Clark has served more than one thousand hours in her eleven years of volunteering. An excellent writer and editor, Kate has helped with many publications including a native plant guide, trail guides and the Dog-friendly Parks Guide. She is a regular at the Nix Nature Center, welcoming park guests. Kate assists with research and data management. Her attention to details is a critical component of preserving and protecting our beautiful wilderness.

Paul Doyle, a great steward of our open space, volunteers in many areas. In 2011, Paul started working in the native plant nursery, collecting and planting seed, transplanting the young plants and eventually planting them in the park. Paul also helps lead public Keep It Wild events in which participants can volunteer their time to weed, water, plant and collect trash. Paul’s hard work and leadership surely helps improve the health of native habitat.

Warren Haines volunteers every week at the Nix Nature Center teaching visitors about the park and its trails. Warren is a member of the Wildlife Camera Team, a very important effort in protecting our wilderness. Since most park wildlife avoids human contact, the photos from the wildlife cameras are key evidence of the presence of bobcat, deer, coyote and other native fauna. His contagious laugh and commitment to the land is an inspiration to us all.

Kendra Jones, almost 11 years ago, joined the trail crew and soon was recruited to help with restoration efforts. Kendra has always been interested in everything about the park, taking time to learn about geology, biology and native plants. Her commitment to continuous learning certainly helps in her leadership role for public events. You will see Kendra out on the trails frequently; her love for the wilderness is clear.

The OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation staff

Each year, Orange County Parks hosts a volunteer appreciation barbecue. Rangers and other OC Parks staff highlight selected volunteers who serve in their respective parks. Those personally recognized for their past year of service represent a much larger group of volunteers across OC Parks, dedicated to preserving and protecting our parks, beaches and other county treasures.

Laguna Canyon Foundation is the supporting agent for Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, and selected special project areas. While we welcome anyone at our one-day public volunteer events, we also offer volunteer certification for those wanting to volunteer on a more long-term basis. Certification requires attending orientation and interpretation training, passing a background check, obtaining CPR/First Aid certification, and spending time with a mentor to earn OC Parks’ Facilities Certification. Collectively, our certified, long-term volunteers served more than 7,000 hours last year alone.

Over the time of their service, a few volunteers become – literally – experts in their fields. After receiving their initial certification, they seek out additional specialized training as they find a niche that is both fulfilling to them and extraordinarily helpful to OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation.

Areas of specialization include:

Restoration and Stewardship

Each year, a group of tireless volunteers scour the parks for specific invasive plant species. In close coordination with OC Parks, over the course of a season, these volunteers may remove over 500 bags of plants that would otherwise hijack the resources that native flora and fauna need to thrive. In addition, you may see stationary restoration sites at Big Bend, Dilley Preserve, Pecten Reef, and Aliso & Wood Canyons Headquarters. Not only do our certified volunteers steward these areas, they are a great place for short-term volunteers to receive hands-on restoration experience.

Wildlife Camera Project

A band of trained volunteers work closely with OC Parks to manage wildlife cameras, scout for tracks and scat, and catalog photos. This is time-consuming but rewarding work, as it gives us a window into how the local fauna is faring, and from time to time, a most amazing photograph of a bobcat, deer or coyote pup.

Trail Stewardship

A handful of long-term, certified volunteers have spent countless hours with Laguna Canyon Foundation and OC Parks learning what is needed to repair and maintain trails. Many started as short-term volunteers at a Laguna Canyon Foundation trail stewardship event and moved on to certification. As their interest and skills grow, they continue their commitment with OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation, serving at public programs and occasionally on special trail projects.

Specialty Hikes and Rides

Passions such as mountain biking and learning about native wildlife lead some of our long-term volunteers to share their expertise with others through volunteer-guided programs. We have volunteer bikers who have ridden both the world’s trails and our local trails – extensively. They lead rides for beginners as well as more advanced bikers, with patience, skill and local knowledge. Certified volunteers often develop a deep understanding of the native flora and fauna over time, sharing that knowledge on hikes and through photographs published on social media, on LCF’s website and in the local newspapers.

Park Ambassadors, Backcountry Patrol,Ranger Reserve and Fire Watch

These are certified volunteers who are out regularly during the week, and especially on the weekends, working alongside park staff at the trailheads and on the trails assisting park visitors and alerting the rangers of potential issues. As the volunteers’ knowledge grows, they serve as additional “eyes and ears” for the rangers – invaluable, considering the massive size of the South Coast Wilderness.

As you hike, ride or stroll through the parks, you will recognize these hardworking and long-term volunteers in the parks. They will be wearing LCF/OC Parks attire and badges and are often seen side by side with OC Parks staff.

OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation rely on our trained, skilled and knowledgeable volunteers. We are land stewards; we are also educators and naturalists guiding those who recreate in the wilderness towards a fuller knowledge and respect for the native plants and animals.

Together, we can both enjoy the open space and protect it.

If you would like to take the first steps in becoming a long-term, certified volunteer, come join us for an upcoming event. Introduce yourself! We’d love to meet you.

After four consecutive days of rain this month, bringing a record 4.5 inches within ten days, OC Parks Rangers made the tough call to close the trails of Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. It was a holiday weekend (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday) and it was expected to be sunny on both Saturday and Sunday.


That was the big question asked by many hikers, bikers and photographers as they were turned away at the trailheads and gates. Working with the OC Parks rangers, dozens of Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers staffed several gates and trailheads to let visitors know of the closures.

Under a blue sky, I staffed Top of the World for several hours, turning away hundreds of guests. One disappointed park visitor commented, “I’m from Portland and have never heard of a trail closure because of rain.”

I explained that many parts of the trails are still muddy and slick, even after a few sunny days. The trails can be dangerous for hikers and bikers. In addition, we want to give the habitat time to soak up all the moisture we received.

It was heartwarming when folks asked additional questions and were eager to learn more, perhaps even debate a bit. “We could walk around the mud, right?” “Could we go over there where it seems dry?”

Together a few visitors and I went down that path of conversation: We agreed that there are muddy spots still on the trails, as there were clearly puddles in our view.

These pictures of the trails were taken on January 23rd – five days after the rain.

So, let’s just consider one dense muddy spot in the center of the trail: after one user passes through, they now have mud caked onto their boots or tires. Then another user passes through, more mud leaves that spot, and this continues until there is now a hole where the muddy spot used to be. The hole then fills with water with the next rain or misty morning, creating a deeper muddy spot. The cycle continues, not giving the trail time to heal and dry up.

Over time, the trail becomes unwelcoming, tempting bikers and hikers to go around the hole, creating new paths through fragile vegetation where the seeds of spring’s wildflowers are working their way to the surface to germinate.

Then, all of us park users, collectively and, likely unknowingly, widen the trails, which contributes to further habitat fragmentation, encroaching on the wilderness and threatening native wildlife.

And, after all, we know our wilderness parks are preserved as open space for the native flora and fauna. This is a priority to the rangers and must be a priority to us as well, as we responsibly and respectfully recreate only when the parks are open.

Reports back from our volunteers who staffed the gate closures confirmed that visitors, for the most part, understood and were willing to wait to enjoy the trails on another day. We are grateful for their support.

Hmmm, but back to the Portlander’s comment. She got me thinking. I’ve experienced exactly what she was saying. Up at Humboldt, California, where I went to college and visited with my husband just last April, we were able to hike in the rain on beautiful forested trails juxtaposed to an Arcata neighborhood, much like Laguna Beach and Top of the World. There were no park closures there and it had rained for days.


One word: habitat. Our local coastal sage scrub habitat is very different from the redwood forests of Humboldt or coniferous forests of Portland. We don’t get rain as often, and when we do, there is less root structure to secure plants, less leaf litter to mitigate mud, and entirely different soil that takes longer to properly absorb moisture. Our growing season is shorter, and we have much lower average precipitation, so our vegetation grows back slowly.

Our local habitat is unique. So protect what we love. Let’s stay off the trails when parks are closed, respect the rangers’ expertise, and pause to enjoy the canyon views from a distance. This preserves the open space not only for the native plants and animals that call it home, but for us who enjoy it so much.

Want to learn more about the animals that live here? Check out this recent Stu News article, featuring photographs taken by LCF volunteer John Foley.

Years ago, inspired by one of the most awesome gifts my dad ever gave me – a Bianchi road bike – I became obsessed with biking. I rode around Palos Verdes Peninsula almost every weekend. Back then, I didn’t wear a helmet or sunscreen. I frequently rode alone; my route was out of Malaga Cove on Palos Verdes Drives West, South, East and home on Palos Verdes Drive North. No matter how many times I pedaled up Palos Verdes Drive East, my endurance was challenged. Huffing and puffing, I muscled to the peak, so I could sit back, let go of the handlebars, grab some water, and sail down for the rest of the ride. Twenty-four miles of sheer pleasure.

This past summer, I got back into biking – mountain biking, to be specific – on a used hardtail Leader I recently purchased.

As the saying goes, “It’s just like riding a bike,” right?

Well, no. And I learned that the hard way when after huffing and puffing up a dirt trail, I sat up to grab some water and cruise down the incline – feeling pretty proud of myself – instead of focusing on the quick turns, changing soil and protruding toyon branches that lay before me. I braked hard for a rock that came out of nowhere and nearly fell into a cholla.

It was time for me to acknowledge that I needed some guidance.

On the third Sunday of each month in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, several Laguna Canyon Foundation volunteers lead two rides: Introduction to Mountain Biking and Intermediate Mountain Biking. Andre and Karin Lotz, Heather Hawke, Fernando GenKuong and Shawn Biglari are very experienced riders. They are CPR trained, are certified by OC Parks staff, and know the trails. Most importantly, they are fabulous and patient teachers. The two rides are scheduled at the same time so that the leaders can welcome all participants, ensure everyone has helmets and necessary equipment, and determine who will lead which ride.

For December’s ride, I arrived at Aliso and Wood Canyons not as a Laguna Canyon Foundation staffer, but as a mountain biker, ready to learn. Since all the riders that showed up that morning wanted to go on the intermediate ride, Karin graciously offer to take me on the intro ride, which was my preference. What a wonderful experience!

The Intro ride is about eight miles up and down Wood Canyon. Karin adjusts seat height if needed and reviews neutral and ready body positioning before the ride. Along the trail are bridges, water, cake mix soil, sharp turns, quick inclines and, of course, other park users. As we approached these elements, Karin reviewed things like when and how to brake, when to change gears, and where my line of sight should be. I learned that a steep, rocky incline wasn’t something to “gear up” for, to muscle through as I have always done, but to anticipate with a proper gear and consistent pedaling. If I found that I had to stop in the middle of an uphill ride, Karin showed me how to recover and pedal again. We talked as we rode and all the while she communicated with and watched out for other bikers and hikers.

And while there were things I didn’t feel ready to do – ride on a narrow wooden bridge or through a creek – I came away with improved skills and confidence, eager to ride more.

The intermediate 10-mile ride goes up Wood Canyon to Cholla and Westridge and down Lynx, Rock-It, or a trail appropriate for that day’s group. The leaders focus more on the experience than the skill level of the riders, but will include pointers on the subject where the need is realized. For the most part, riders on the intermediate ride are already competent on a mountain bike. As many are either new to Southern California or new to the park, the focus is more on where we are, what trails are available and who uses them, and what one might expect to encounter in the park. The primary goal is to have a good workout, a lot of fun, and a chance to make new friends who can share a common experience.

These rides are just plain fun with a wonderful group of riders and are a great way for those, like me, who want to get back into biking or for more experienced folks who may want some fresh ideas and input. As I hone my skills, I imagine I’ll soon want to ride with the Intermediate group, but for now, I’m happy re-learning how to ride a bike.

Join us on January 20, 2019. Sign up here:

Intro to Mountain Biking

Intermediate Mountain Biking

Be Aware; Be Prepared

Laguna Canyon Foundation’s trained volunteers and staff lead dozens of free hikes, mountain bike rides, and stewardship events each month in the South Coast Wilderness. The details of each program – whether a yoga hike, habitat restoration event, or fitness hike – are listed online, providing the community lots of ways to “opt outside.”

Before each outing at the selected trailhead, introductions are made. The leaders reiterate the details of the activity so that participants may confirm they are appropriately prepared. Participants have the opportunity to take a quick restroom break or run back to their cars for any needed items, and then everyone hits the trail for a new adventure. It is a wonderful time to get to know our wilderness in unique ways and make a few new friends.

Just a “walk in the park,” right?

Not quite. A lot goes on behind the scenes. OC Parks and Laguna Canyon Foundation’s long-term volunteers are amazing for a lot of reasons: they love the land and they know the trails; most are experienced naturalists; many are specifically trained in their field of expertise: geology, California native plants or yoga, for example.

They are also trained in CPR and First Aid. Having recently been re-certified in CPR/FA, I am reminded how important this training is to the work we do.

During the eight-hour course, led by a wonderful instructor, Louis Liwanag, volunteers learn what steps to take in an emergency. Stop; breathe; scan. This includes assessing and responding to variety of situations, from heat cramps to sprains to a heart attack. Students learn how to assess a scene and approach a distressed or injured person. They review who to call and when. Louis spends a significant amount of time on how to administer CPR and first aid and the students practice…and practice…and practice. Participants take a test and those who pass are certified.

CPR and First Aid training is as important for the volunteers to know as the trails they are on.

Ever wonder what the most common issue is that we see on the trails? Not a bike crash, ankle sprain or other physical injury; not a snake bite, bee sting or animal related injury; thankfully, not a heart attack. It is heat-related illness: dehydration, cramps and weakness.

As we head into the cooler days of fall, we might think that we’re not at risk for heat-related issues, but this is really a fallacy. Heat-related illnesses happen when we aren’t hydrated enough or we take on an activity that is too steep, too long, or too challenging for our skill level. Weather is but one factor.

The wilderness and trails are very inviting, and so it’s not a surprise if we want to go farther, higher or faster than we should sometimes. But as the volunteers are trained to do when they are first aware of a scene, we too can stop, breathe, scan. Whether on a guided hike or out on our own, let’s listen to our bodies. Are we skilled and fit enough for what we are about to do? Once on the trails, if we feel fatigued, should we go back? Should we rest? Should we let someone know?

Let nature take its course as you take care of yourself. The trail will be there next time too. Be prepared and be aware.

Nothing like planning for the upcoming school year to reflect on hard-earned accomplishments while pondering what’s ahead.

Wait, what…but it’s summer. Sweet, low-key summer!

Yes, it is July, but for several school districts, including Santa Ana, school starts again in just weeks – mid-August.

That means we at Laguna Canyon Foundation are already in the throes of budgeting, strategizing and planning for the students we’ll soon be bringing on wilderness hikes this coming school year.

Last year, Laguna Canyon Foundation hosted:

  • 76 hikes
  • with 4,506 participants
  • covering 169 miles of hiking

The participants are second through fifth graders, their teachers, and several parents. The hikes are out of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park’s Barbara’s Lake and Dilley and Willow Staging Areas, as well as Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.

Laguna Canyon Foundation offers bus transportation, programs led by our trained field educators, and materials – all at no cost to schools or students. The curriculum covers such subjects as design in nature, adaptations, habitats big and small, the art of observation, and general fitness, all while emphasizing how each of us can be good stewards of the earth, whether in the wilderness or in our own neighborhoods.

But while facts and figures are always interesting to crunch and review, the most rewarding part of our yearly review is remembering the individual conversations we had with students, teachers and parents, and how a morning hike in the wilderness sparked their sense of wonder.

Students learn that one of the biggest “social” trails fragmenting the habitat and making it very difficult for animals to cross between the Santa Ana Mountains and the South Coast Wilderness is the very freeway they traveled on to come to the trailhead. They learn that while a snake can’t make all the holes along the trails they see, they can – and sometimes do – certainly come out of one. Why? Snakes are looking for their lunch. Students ponder, as they see the “No Dogs” sign, why their pet cannot come on the trail with them. Then an “a-ha moment” comes: a dog, after all, is a predator.

This past school year, Laguna Canyon Foundation brought students who typically might miss out on such an adventure: students who need ADA bathrooms or may not be able to hike the trails as their classmates can; students who may need one-on-one attention, such as those who are visually impaired. We prioritized accommodating the needs of each individual student, ensuring that every single child (and his/her parent) felt welcomed and had the confidence to learn and grow alongside their classmates.

Hats off to our wonderful field instructors, Alex, Audra, Cameron, Chrisha, Luma and Joanne, for the care, the knowledge and the enthusiasm they shared with each and every participant of our school program.

Student quotes from thank you notes and trailside wrap-ups:

“Thank you for taking your time to teach us about nature. I loved learning about the flowers. My favorites were the wild cucumber and the sticky monkey flower.” – Eli

“Keep calm and love animals.” – Fabian

“I love nature.” – Stephany

“If you take flowers, you might be taking an animal’s food or shelter.” – Omar

“I liked being outdoors, learning new stuff, being with my friends and hiking with our teacher.” – Janet

“The graham crackers were delicious, but I know human food isn’t good for wildlife.” – Adela

“Picking up trash like glass, is important. Hot days and trash could make a fire.” – Bailey

“I saw bunnies, one snake, animal ‘footsteps’ and a hawk’s nest. My favorite part was when we played camouflage.” – Navid

Thanks to Cameron and Chrisha for the pictures!

What’s ahead?

Laguna Canyon Foundation’s partnership with its Santa Ana Title One schools is unique. Our staff works closely with teachers to ensure our NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) curriculum syncs with what they are teaching in class. Our goal is to bring back each student in his/her second, third, fourth, and fifth grade years to develop future environmentalists.

Our local Laguna Beach schools are also a priority. Many Laguna Beach teachers have a passion for the wilderness and want their students to understand the gift we have with the wilderness “right outside our doors.” Hikes with local students involve fitness, yes, but also discussions on safe trail use and what each of us can do – pick up trash, not go on unauthorized trails, keep our dogs on dog-friendly trails, volunteer – to protect what we love.

“In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” – Baba Dioum

These programs would not be possible without the generosity of our grantors and donors. This coming year, we hope to raise $150,000 to sustain our program. Whether you enjoy the trails frequently or admire them from afar, it is the open space that makes Laguna Beach so unique.

Decades ago, Lagunans fought to ensure that this wilderness would be here for generations to come. Laguna Canyon Foundation is leading the way to develop the newest generation of activists and environmentalists. Thank you to our wonderful community for all you’ve done.

Help us carry on. Donate today: www.lagunacanyon.org/donate