Thanks to Brian Flynn for the photograph!

We all belong in the parks, people and animals alike. The South Coast Wilderness is your open space, and we encourage you to explore it, to enjoy it, and to make it your own.

As you visit the parks and hike or ride the trails, remember that the open space is the home to many creatures: deer, bobcat, coyotes, foxes, snakes, hawks, rabbits, woodrats, insects and native plants. When we venture off trail or allow our dogs in areas preserved for wildlife, we upset a delicate balance of plant and animal life. In addition, it’s dangerous for us and our dogs.

Just as we humans are required to stay on the trails, our furry friends must do the same. Here’s why:

  • Dogs are predators. Wild animals will avoid place that a dog has marked. This reduces the wildlife’s habitat and makes it more difficult to find food.
  • Domestic dog scent disrupts the lives of gray foxes and coyotes, who also mark their territories.
  • Dogs scare native birds, like quail, from their nests. This can cause the death of their young.
  • It’s dangerous for our dogs to be off leash, off trail and where they aren’t allowed.
    • Dogs can pick up poison oak.
    • Dogs can be bitten by rattlesnakes.
    • Dogs get ticks which carry Lyme and other diseases.

When visiting the parks, it’s important to keep dogs on-leash and bring them only on dog-friendly trails. A six-foot leash is required at all times, and dog waste must be picked up. Dogs are not allowed in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. In Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, dogs are allowed on the following trails:

  • Aliso Creek Bike Trail
  • Aliso Peak Trail
  • Aliso Summit Trail
  • Aswut Trail
  • Canyon Acres Trail
  • Pecten Reef Loop Trail
  • Toovet Trail
  • West Ridge Trail

You can download a trail map of Aliso and Wood Canyons here.

In addition, there are many other dog-friendly options near the South Coast Wilderness, including:

Laguna Beach Dog Park
20612 Laguna Canyon Road
Laguna Beach

A Place for Paws
Ridge Route Drive and Peralta Drive
Laguna Woods

Costa Mesa Bark Park
890 Arlington Drive
Costa Mesa

Laguna Niguel Pooch Park
31461 Golden Lantern
Laguna Niguel

San Clemente Dog Park
301 Avenida La Pata
San Clemente

Thank you for your help in protecting our parks!

Last month, Laguna Canyon Foundation was awarded a $5,000 grant for the South Coast Wilderness Education Program from the Disney VoluntEARS Community Fund! Disneyland Resort’s Director of Workforce Management and long-time LCF volunteer Arland Van Horn presented the check to LCF’s Board.

The Disney VoluntEARS Community Fund program offers a means to give Disney Cast Members (employees) direct involvement in the distribution of charitable funds that they personally contribute. Ms. Van Horn explains, “Each participating Cast Member contributes what they can through direct payroll deductions.  A Leadership Counsel of Cast Members reviewed a large number of grant applications and awarded Laguna Canyon Foundation $5,000. It makes me proud to be a part of both organizations.”

The VoluntEARS Community Fund grant is invitation-only; only organizations nominated by a Disneyland Resort Cast Member personally affiliated with the organization are eligible to apply.

“We are thrilled, and so grateful for Arland’s vote of confidence,” said Hallie Jones, LCF’s Executive Director. “Our education program inspires environmental advocacy and love for the wilderness in the next generation, and Disney VoluntEARS Community Fund’s support will help make that possible.”

Each year, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education program brings more than 4,500 second through fifth grade students from Orange County Title 1 schools for free field trips into our open space. Our hands-on, standards-based program allows children to hike, explore native plants, see wildlife, and learn about conservation and preservation. Each field trip supports the Next Generation State Science Standards, and focuses on grade-specific topics, including art in nature, adaptations, geology, fitness and nutrition.

Thank you Arland, Disney VoluntEARS, and all of our fantastic supporters and volunteers!

Someone asked me the other day if the South Coast Wilderness (the area around Laguna Beach comprising Laguna Coast and Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Parks, Crystal Cove State Park and other city-owned open space areas) was actually a wilderness. Well now, that depends. What is wilderness? As is true with any word, the definition will vary depending on who you ask and in what context the word is used.

For instance, if you are using this word to refer to an area of that name protected in the United States under the Wilderness Act of 1964 (that is, “Capital-W” or “Designated” Wilderness), then the definition is:

        “… in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, … an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled [i.e., unconstrained] by man [i.e., humankind], where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

In addition to this general definition, there are specific requirements in this statute that must be met, and defined human activities that are prohibited in these areas. For instance, these areas must be free of roads and the use of mechanized equipment (such as motor vehicles, chainsaws and hang gliders) is prohibited except in special circumstances (such as a wildfire).

We can compare this formal, legal definition to a more general one (that is, Google’s):

        “An uncultivated, uninhabited, and inhospitable region.”

That is, a wasteland: an area not useful to humans.

An important thing to remember is that the idea of “wilderness” is just that: an abstract concept created by western civilization and really not that long ago (less than a thousand years, or less than 2% of the existence of “behaviorally modern” humans). It was born out of the idea that humans and nature are separate from and inimical to each other. In most indigenous hunter-gatherer cultures, there is no such thing as the idea of a wilderness and humans are viewed as part of nature rather than something distinct from it.

As humans have become more and more dominant over the planet, the idea that humans and nature are distinct has become harder to maintain. For instance, invasive weeds, air pollution and climate change do not respect boundaries drawn on maps, and have definitely begun to “trammel” areas previously defined as wilderness. The increase in wildland fires and the bark beetle epidemics affecting many wildlands in the American West are a couple of the most glaring examples.

With all of this in mind, let’s look at some definitions of the root word, “wild”, to see if we can gain some more insight:


        1a : living in a state of nature and not… tame or domesticated <wild ducks>

        b (1) : growing or produced without human aid or care <wild honey> (2) : related to or resembling a

                corresponding cultivated or domesticated organism…

        2a : not inhabited or cultivated <wild land>

         b : not amenable to human habitation or cultivation; also : desolate

        3a (1) : not subject to restraint or regulation : uncontrolled; also : unruly (2) : emotionally overcome

          <wild with grief>; also : passionately eager or enthusiastic <was wild to own a toy train — J. C. Furnas>

         b : marked by turbulent agitation : stormy <a wild night>

         c : going beyond normal or conventional bounds : fantastic <wild ideas>; also : sensational

         d : indicative of strong passion, desire, or emotion <a wild gleam of delight in his eyes — Irish Digest>”

        – Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (highlights mine)

We see in this the ideas underpinning the above definitions of wilderness, but also a broadening of what it means to be wild that does not depend on a separateness between humans and the rest of the natural world. So if “wilderness” is a place dominated by wild things, then it is a place untamed, undomesticated, not subject to restraint, uncontrolled, unruly, where one can break free of normal or conventional bounds, and maybe even experience strong passions, desires or emotions…to find the wild within.

So, back to the original question: is the South Coast Wilderness a true wilderness?

By conventional and strict definitions, it may not qualify: There are fire roads, bicycles are permitted, and motor vehicles and other mechanized equipment are used by land managers, for instance. Also, due to the fragility of the habitats and very high visitation rates, park users are subject to many restraints on how they can use the Parks that aren’t usually present in Designated Wilderness Areas.

However, relative to its highly-developed and extremely human-dominated surroundings, the South Coast Wilderness is a wilderness indeed: a home to wild things, plant, animal and otherwise, where people can visit to re-connect with the natural world, and maybe even re-connect with the wildness that exists inside every one of us.

The first time I hiked on Lynx trail in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park was just last week. It is a steep, rocky, view-rich path between West Ridge trail and Wood Creek, and clearly, it has been cared for. There were drainage efforts and tread improvements to keep hikers on the trail and water off the trail. 

I’ve lived in Laguna Beach for the past thirteen years and was born and raised in Southern California. You’d think I might have known about Lynx, this beautiful treasure of a trail, years ago, but I did not.

As the newly hired Outreach Manager for Laguna Canyon Foundation, I hike with elementary school children weekly in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, on well-kept, safe, trash free [almost] trails: Stagecoach South, Laurel Canyon, Canyon, Sunflower, Lake, and Little Sycamore, to name a few.

For those of us who live in proximity to these two parks – part of the South Coast Wilderness stretching from Newport Beach to Aliso Viejo – we might not yet know the intimate beauty of the parks: the metamorphic rock formations; the shade of the coast live oak and scent of sage; the sighting of a deer, roadrunner or bobcat; but we do know of its great beauty simply by driving down the 133 and 73, along Aliso Viejo’s Wood Canyon Drive or Laguna Niguel’s Pacific Park Drive.

These protected lands improve our lives as well as our home values. Says Ed McMahon, a Washington D.C.-based expert on open space: “Open space really contributes to the image of a community. The image of a community is fundamentally important to its economic well-being.”

One may wonder, then, how is it that this land is preserved and maintained as well as it is when an estimated 500,000 people visit each year to hike, bike, paint and photograph?

“It is a never-ending project, as you can well imagine,” says Hallie Jones, Executive Director of Laguna Canyon Foundation. “Laguna Canyon Foundation’s mission is to protect and preserve our open space, and with 70 miles of trails and 22,000 acres of wilderness, we have our work cut out for us. It is our volunteers who inspire us with their commitment and hard work.”

Indeed, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s certified, long-term volunteers served more 7,600 hours in 2016. Their work included:

  • Greeting park visitors at the trailheads to answer questions, explain park protocols and offer fun facts about the open space
  • Working closely with OC Parks’ small maintenance staff to maintain authorized trails and reduce social (unauthorized) trails to #KeepItWild
  • Pulling invasive plants, improving trails, and planting native plants and seeds during regular trail maintenance and restoration events
  • Working closely with OC Park Rangers to patrol the park and assist guests needing directions, water or bit of trail advice
  • Leading a variety of bike rides, nursery and plant care events, and hikes – yoga, geology, fitness, educational, child-friendly – to help enhance the visitors’ enjoyment and understanding of the open space

In addition, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s short-term volunteers, those who come, from time to time, to our trail events to pick up trash, plant, weed, water and shore up trails, logged more than 2,000 hours.

Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, said to the International Union for Conservation of Nature:

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

Laguna Canyon Foundation’s volunteers spread the message of preservation and conservation with kindness, knowledge and a bit of fun. They love the land and it shows. We are forever grateful for the volunteers’ support.

So, whether you ever step foot in the open space to explore trails new to you or prefer to enjoy the beauty from a distance, thank a volunteer for helping #ProtectWhatYouLove.

Happy Holidays.

Are you taking advantage of the Charitable IRA Rollover? This is a wonderful opportunity to provide a significant gift to Laguna Canyon Foundation and #ProtectWhatYouLove while avoiding taxation on IRA distributions. Support vital habitat restoration, trail maintenance and improvements, and outdoor education for Title 1 students, all while saving money. Sound too good to be true? It’s not! Here’s how it works:


  • Donors must be 70.5 years old or older
  • Funds must be transferred directly from your financial institution to Laguna Canyon Foundation (may not be transferred to donor advised funds)
  • Transfers must be from a traditional or Roth IRA
  • You can donate any amount up to $100,000 per person (couples with separate IRAs may donate up to $200,000)


This charitable rollover does count towards your IRA’s annual required minimum distribution (RMD). It’s a great opportunity to make an additional tax-free gift this year, even if you’ve maximized your annual charitable deduction.

Want to learn more? Find out details here. Interested in supporting Laguna Canyon Foundation directly from your IRA, avoiding income taxes on the gift? Tell your financial advisor or IRA administrator that you’d like to make a Charitable IRA Rollover to Laguna Canyon Foundation, or call us at (949)497-8324.


Thank you for your ongoing support!

While participating in Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education program last week, a third grade class, hiking along the Lake Trail in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, could barely keep silent as they spotted a bunny. Their hands went up as they flexed their fingers, signaling that an animal was near. They knew to whisper and keep as quiet as they could, so as not to frighten the animal and allow their fellow students to observe. The bunny stood very still, almost impossible to see, for just moments, and then scurried off behind the bushes.

From September through June each year, at several staging areas in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s education staff hosts up to 80 field trips for Title One elementary school students. With the support of grants and our generous donors, more than 4,500 students get the opportunity to explore and learn about our wonderful open spaces every year. These children have seen many inhabitants of the canyon, including rabbits, deer, snakes, gophers, lizards, roadrunners, coyotes, and raptors and other birds.

Last week’s bunny sighting was the perfect opportunity to learn about camouflage and adaptations. The students played a “Predator and Prey” game under the 133 bridge, having fun and learning about survival, before moving on to Barbara’s Lake. Along the way the students smelled white sage and learned about the importance of coast live oak to the survival of the Native American Acjahemen tribe.

At Barbara’s Lake, now dry, they learned about the drought and water conservation. Students were asked how each of us could save water. Seeing the parched lake, the concerned students had many suggestions: take shorter showers, don’t let the water run in the bathroom and kitchen, and use any leftover drinking water for plants and pets rather than just throwing it down the drain.

Tailored per grade level, Laguna Canyon Foundation’s programs teach students about art in nature, adaptations, geology, nutrition, and, of course, conservation and preservation. In the midst of a beautiful hike, children learn to pick up trash, stay on the trails and respect the animals’ home.

After pointing out to the class many plants along the trails, the educator asked, “What is a native plant?”

The attentive students thought for a bit, then one student, Samantha, raised her hand. “It’s a plant that belongs here.”

Indeed – and that is what Laguna Canyon Foundation’s South Coast Wilderness Education Program aims to instill: a sense of belonging. Each of us – along with the plants and animals of the canyon – belong here. This is all of our land to care for, share, and pass on to the next generation.

Thank you to our generous education supporters, including the Cultural Vision Fund and the AHE/CI Trust (both in memory of Elizabeth E. Fleming), the Annenberg Foundation, the Marisla Foundation, the Schlinger Foundation, and Marcia Tilker.

Interested in supporting the South Coast Wilderness Education Program? Donate today, or email us for more information.

As we continue through this November heat wave, it’s nice to remember that we did recently have rain. Please enjoy this poem by one of our fabulous volunteers, Chuck Wright. Not only is he a poet and a photographer (enjoy his photo of a Western Fence Lizard above), he dedicates countless hours to restoring our open spaces — whatever the weather may be.

Thank you, Chuck.



the busy operator or robot
“Please hold”
and then you wait and wait and wait

nature has been put
“on hold”

no water
no dew
no moisture

and then last week it came
glorious rain

.3 on an inch in LCWP
on the north facing slope
barbara’s lake hill

restoration site

i gape in wonder &
like it is supposed to be GREEN

bryophytes galore
mosses green & plump
and ferns with fronds at
least an inch long

oh i
hope the pause
of the “please
will be no
let there be
green green green

Laguna Canyon Foundation is excited to announce that it has received a $50,000 grant from the Annenberg Foundation to support the South Coast Wilderness Education Program. The SCWEP provides enriching opportunities for local students at underperforming schools to experience the wilderness in an increasingly urban world.

“We are honored to have been selected for this highly prestigious grant, and are thrilled to have secured funding for this year’s South Coast Wilderness Education Program,” said Hallie Jones, Executive Director of Laguna Canyon Foundation. “This grant will allow us to bring up to 5,000 students into the wilderness over the 2016-17 school year, instilling a love of the open space and fostering the next generation of environmental stewards.”

Many children growing up in some of Orange County’s urban communities rarely have a chance to be surrounded by nature. This is particularly true for students enrolled in elementary and secondary schools that receive Part A, Title I (“Title I”) federal financial assistance, which often lack the resources needed to organize extracurricular activities or field trips. LCF’s South Coast Wilderness Education Program focuses on partnering with these schools to provide free outdoor education field trips, including bus transportation. The program is an integral part of LCF’s core mission of preserving, protecting, enhancing and promoting the 22,000 acres of South Coast Wilderness located in Orange County, ensuring this wonderful community resource continues to provide a valuable refuge for urban dwellers seeking natural beauty and solitude.

About the Annenberg Foundation

The Annenberg Foundation is a family foundation that provides funding and support to nonprofit organizations in the United States and globally. Since 1989, it has generously funded programs in education and youth development; arts, culture and humanities; civic and community life; health and human services; and animal services and the environment. In addition, the Foundation and its Board of Directors are directly involved in the community with innovative projects that further its mission of advancing a better tomorrow through visionary leadership today. Among them are Annenberg Alchemy, Annenberg Learner, Annenberg Space for Photography, Explore, GroW@Annenberg and the Metabolic Studio. The Foundation encourages the development of effective ways to communicate by sharing ideas and knowledge.

After an intense hiring search and interview process, Laguna Canyon Foundation is proud to welcome our new Restoration Coordinator, Josie Bennett! Josie will be working closely with Restoration Program Director Alan Kaufmann, doing everything from jumping in on hands-on restoration work at the DeWitt property and leading volunteer restoration days to assisting with grant applications and attending important city planning meetings.

Josie is a field biologist with experience implementing habitat restoration and monitoring at various sites in Orange County. She has expertise in our local natural history including plants, plant communities, insects, amphibians, reptiles and birds. Prior to joining Laguna Canyon Foundation, she worked for the Irvine Ranch Conservancy and the Natural Resource Management department of California State Parks in Orange County. Josie received a BS in Biological Sciences with an emphasis on Ecology and Environment from California State University, Long Beach. She is certified through the National Association for Interpretation as a Certified Interpretive Guide (CIG).

Already Josie has made a great impact, helping us with a corporate stewardship day, digging in on restoration planning and truly pitching in where we need her. Her wealth of biological expertise and invaluable experience in restoring local habitats are matched only by her enthusiasm and eagerness to contribute to LCF’s work. Join us in welcoming Josie to the LCF team!

It’s October – and though the summer heat hasn’t quite departed yet, we at Laguna Canyon Foundation are turning our sights towards cooler weather and our most active season. From more frequent hikes taking advantage of mild California autumns and winters, to an intensive trial maintenance and improvement schedule, to restoration work and preparation for the planting season, there’s a lot to look forward to in the upcoming months!

October also marks the return of our monthly Keep It Wild volunteer days. Keep It Wild days occur on the third Saturday of each month from October to May, with simultaneous projects in both Aliso and Wood Canyons and Laguna Coast Wilderness Parks. Keep It Wild volunteers work side-by-side with OC Parks rangers and Laguna Canyon Foundation staff to remove invasive species, plant new plants, brush “social” (unauthorized) trails, and maintain existing trails. These are one-time events that do not require orientation or advance training – just register online and join us for a fun, fulfilling morning out in our beautiful parks!

Click on the links below to register for an upcoming Keep It Wild day:

Aliso and Wood Canyons

Laguna Coast

You can also join us for a Nursery Plant Propagation and Care Day for another great way to contribute to LCF without an ongoing volunteer commitment. Held in our Willow plant nursery, nursery volunteers may collect seeds, sow seeds in flats, sterilize plant containers and equipment and/or help maintain the facilities.

Register for an upcoming nursery day below:

Thanks to all our volunteers, and remember, #KeepItWild!