This November is the launch of our Keep It Wild Stewardship Program! Are you looking for a way to give back to the local wilderness? Do you want to learn about native flora and fauna? Are you interested in volunteering outdoors? Our Keep It Wild Stewardship program is for you! Read along to learn more about Laguna Canyon Foundation’s robust stewardship program and how you can get involved.

In the summer months, our stewardship volunteer events go dormant just like our native coastal sage scrub. The hot weather and dry soil make for a perfect time to rest. Our stewardship program follows the same rhythms of the land. Come November, when it’s typically cooler and more moisture is in the air, our plants start to come back to life and so do our volunteer events.

So, what is the Keep It Wild program? First, we should talk about habitat restoration. Habitat restoration is the act of working on a degraded area by planting native plants and caring for the area as it heals and grows back into resilient habitat (a natural home for plants and animals) for our local wildlife. This area could have been degraded for many reasons: maybe invasive plants took over, maybe there was a non-authorized trail that crushed the plants, etc. Our wildlife needs plenty of healthy and diverse vegetation that provides shelter and food for their unique needs.

Monarch butterfly visiting native Black Sage, planted by LCF volunteeers

So how can you help restore a natural habitat?

Step one: Laguna Canyon Foundation works closely with OC Parks staff to determine which areas in the parks we should adopt and what ecological support we can provide that chosen site. Over the years this program has expanded to five different sites in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park and Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Step two: we then determine the plant palette (yes, much like an artist with their paints, we map out the species we would like to see). We do this by observing more mature habitat in the surrounding area and we basically mimic the species and density of plants we see. It’s almost like putting a band-aid over a papercut to help your skin heal and become strong again. We are the little extra support (the band-aid, if you will) to help that wild area heal.

Step three: we order hundreds of plants from a local nursery that specializes in native plants and that’s where you come in! We can’t do this work alone. Our volunteers show up to our monthly events to help us get the plants in the ground, water them, and maybe pull some weeds. At some events we have planted over 100 native plants! All the while, we are working together and learning about this amazing ecosystem and how each of these plants fit in to the story of this habitat.

We’ll spend the first few months focusing on planting and watering. If all goes as planned, the rain will help us out a bit too. Planting season ends in spring, but we still have plenty of work to do before the summer heat returns. This means watering and weeding the adopted area. The goal is to keep the weeds down as the native plants grow healthy enough to fill in the area.

Getting involved with our Keep It Wild program is an opportunity for you to become a true steward of the land. Taking ownership of an adopted area, returning over the seasons to care for the plants you put in the ground, watching them grow, and if you’re lucky, maybe seeing some of the native wildlife visit the site. You can try this once or keep coming back through the seasons. Learn about how the land changes each season, learn new skills and have a lot of fun in the dirt.

Our Keep It Wild program’s main goal is to connect people with the land through hands-on volunteer work. People of all ages and experience are welcome. Bring your family and friends, because this three-hour event is a great way to give back to nature, have fun, learn something new and maybe even get school credit.

We hope to see you soon!

November Events – Sign up on Eventbrite

Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park Events

Saturday, November 2

Wednesday, November 20

Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Events

Wednesday, November 6

Saturday, November 9

Saturday, November 16

Advocacy, outreach and conservation: these are the pillars of Laguna Canyon Foundation’s work, and we couldn’t do it without the dedication and commitment of our volunteers. Last fiscal year, our volunteers served more than 8,250 hours in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, and throughout the South Coast Wilderness.

Volunteer work includes invasive plant removal, planting native plants, habitat restoration, trail maintenance, WAVing (serving as Wilderness Access Volunteers at trailheads and nature centers), servicing wildlife cameras, leading guided hikes and mountain bike rides, tending to our native plant nursery, and patrolling the backcountry to support OC Parks Rangers.

Each year, along with OC Parks and fellow volunteers, we honor our own. We’d like to share with you this year’s nominees for Excellence in Volunteerism. Thank you to all our volunteers. Together, we can protect our beautiful wilderness

John Foley*

John Foley photographing a bobcat

John Foley has worked 950 hours in the three years he has volunteered for Laguna Canyon Foundation, serving in Laguna Coast and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Parks and for the Wildlife Corridor Project.

John spent many hours walking the culverts between the South Coast Wilderness and the new FivePoint wildlife corridor, designed to connect our parks to the Santa Ana Mountains. John helped with cameras set up to monitor the wildlife’s use of the culverts and the spaces between, which were often surrounded by industrial buildings.

John is a member of the Laguna Coast Wildlife camera team and helps monitor cameras that look at corridors within the park, which is divided in quarters by two major freeways. The cameras help us to observe the wildlife and judge the effectiveness of the wildlife corridors in the park.

Education, John knows, is also a key to protecting our wilderness parks, and he spends many hours leading hikes in Aliso and Woods and Laguna Coast. John’s education and outreach efforts are enhanced by his wonderful photography, which he shares generously. Through the Discovery Hikes, he has met Stu News staffers and has frequently helped them with their photo needs, including local wildlife photos of deer, bobcats and red-tailed hawks.

Stewardship projects are an important element of protecting the wilderness. John helps with restoration projects that are making big differences for our wildlife. He is a member of the Invasive Plant Patrol and surveys the park for new invasive species.

John is dedicated to protecting the South Coast Wilderness through research, restoration, and public education. We thank him for his good-natured, friendly, and important contributions.

Karin and Andre Lotz

Karin and Andre Lotz

Since 2010, Volunteers Karin and Andre Lotz have been amazing ambassadors for OC Parks, Laguna Canyon Foundation and the mountain biking community. Avid and skilled mountain bikers, the Lotzes have travelled the world, riding thousands of miles across challenging and breathtaking landscapes. Back in So Cal, they have always found the time to do backcountry patrol for the parks and lead monthly Intro and Intermediate Mountain Biking Rides. The Lotzes bring their depth of knowledge and skill to share with participating riders. They patiently explain to each new rider techniques for better and safer riding, from how to position one’s body weight to appropriate seat height.

Intimately aware of the Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park trails, the Lotzes help riders sail through creeks, gear down for steep climbs, and brake appropriately, even under challenging and unexpected circumstances. As they ride with the group, the Lotzes greet hikers, other riders and photographers along the way. Fellow volunteers look up to the Lotzes as the de facto leaders.

In a time when trail use is at an all-time high, it is good to have the Lotzes share their love and knowledge of the trails with all trail users. It is a pleasure working with them and learning from them.

Sue Miller*

Sue Miller

Sue Miller is a mainstay at the Nix Nature Center at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. Over a period of nine years, she has worked more than 900 hours – two or more times per month, staffing the front desk and assisting with many different projects. She shares her humor, compassion, and experience with the visitors who come in looking for advice.

Sue is always friendly and willing to lend a hand to help visitors find the right hike…or even a place to eat dinner. She is an expert concierge.

Sue makes herself available to fill in when we need an extra hand at the nature center. And she always makes sure things around the center are clean and the exhibits are working and in good shape.

There are many jobs that need to be done – and Sue Miller is more than willing to take on all of the tasks. She helps families with scavenger hunts…or edits event lists and other publications. She has a good eye for judging whether programs or activities will work with the public – and her advice is excellent.

Sue assists during special events at the Nix Nature Center. She knows the activities and orients visitors with kindness and enthusiasm. Sue has helped with many of our larger “Weekends at the Nix” events, from Astronomy to Amazing Raptors. She enjoys sharing her interests in nature with park visitors.

Sue has become one of the important faces of the Nix Nature Center. We thank Sue for her dedication to providing our park visitors with the best experience ever, and in that way, contributing to the preservation of Laguna Coast Wilderness Park.

Diane Walters*

Diane Walters at Keep it Wild!

In her two years volunteering at Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park, Diane Walters has spent 400 hours making a tremendous contribution to restoration efforts in both parks.

Our parks are small, and the only way to support more wildlife is to reclaim the land that has been occupied by weeds. In this way, we provide more food for the animals, from deer to butterflies. Diane has worked tirelessly at Aliso and Wood Canyons, helping install thousands of native plants in the 26-acre Pecten Reef Habitat Restoration Project, one of the most sensitive and important areas in the Aliso Creek Watershed.

Diane also works on restoration projects in Laguna Coast Wilderness Park. She has collected and sorted acorns to grow into oaks for restoration of park canyons.

The growing of oaks from acorns and other native plants from seeds is made possible through the Laguna Coast Wilderness Park Native Plant Nursery. This nursery takes an enormous amount of TLC, and we are lucky to have someone as dedicated and hardworking as Diane devote herself to the nursery. Last year, the nursery produced hundreds of plants for the two major restoration projects at Laguna Coast.

Diane helps with public days in the nursery, helping new volunteers understand the importance of restoration in the park – and the beauty of our native plants. Diane is enthusiastic, energetic, and a good teacher. She knows that we will need all of these volunteers as advocates for wildlands and wildlife.

Diane has attended Emergent Weeds Training and is part of the Invasive Plant Patrol. If we can control and eliminate the invasive weeds, we can save ourselves so much work in the future!

Diane has also volunteered to help with special events. She designed an exhibit for Astronomy Night and shared it with the Nix Nature Center participants.

*Excerpts taken from OC Parks Resource Specialist Laura Cohen’s nominations.

As our fiscal year comes to a close (that’s right, the year ends on June 30th in the nonprofit world!) we’d like to share some of the statistics on our programs. We’ve been working hard all year to preserve, protect, enhance and promote the South Coast Wilderness – and sometimes it seems like we’ve been working just as hard just to keep track of what we’ve done! We’d like to offer a big thank you to our supporters, board, staff (including our fantastic seasonal Field Instructors and Restoration Technicians), and especially our volunteers. The numbers speak for themselves – we couldn’t accomplish a fraction of what we do without such fantastic volunteer support.

For fiscal year 2018-2019, the numbers are:

Trail Stewardship:

  • 48 volunteer events offered
    • 17 weekend events
  • 162 unique volunteers
    • Average number of volunteers per event (all events): 6
    • Average number of volunteers per weekend event: 12
  • 1,038 volunteer hours logged
  • 1,511 total hours of trail work
  • 335 bags of dirt harvested
  • 178 new drainage features
  • 676 drainage features maintained and/or improved
  • 854 total drainage features
  • 4 new insloped turns
  • 25 turns improved
  • 2,020 linear feet of tread improvements
  • 37,700 feet of trail brushed
  • 11,000 square feet of naturalization
  • 1,600 square feet seeded
  • 5,000 lbs of materials (including water) transported
  • 48 linear feet of lodgepole fencing installed
  • 1 equestrian-rated puncheon constructed

Volunteer Program (overall):

  • 8,269 volunteer hours in Laguna Coast and Aliso & Wood Canyons Wilderness Parks
    • 2,034 short term volunteer hours
    • 6,235 long term volunteer hours
  • 189 events offered
  • 1,517 participants, including
    • 810 public participants
    • 707 short term volunteers
    • Average 8 people per event

Education Program:

    • Maintained 12 partner schools, added 3 new schools
    • Offered 60 school trips, hosting
      • 3,396 students
      • 107 teachers
      • 228 parents
    • Maintained a great staff of 6 part-time field instructors

Restoration Stewardship Program:

    • 48 events offered
      • 28 Keep it Wild
      • 6 Native Plant Nursery
      • 9 Invasive Plant Patrol
      • 5 Corporate and School Events
    • 286 Public Participants
    • 66 LCF Volunteers
    • 1154 total man hours
    • 1070 plants installed

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished, and already planning and preparing for the year ahead! Interested in learning more about our work? Click the links to find out more about our trail stewardship, volunteer, education, and restoration programs!

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

Many are surprised to hear that, second only to direct habitat destruction, invasive species pose the greatest global risk to biodiversity. Introduced from areas all around the world, these species lack natural controls in their new environments, allowing them to proliferate, out-compete natives, and change the nature of entire ecosystems. Their detrimental effects come in all shapes and sizes – from the Brown-headed Cowbird parasitizing the nests of our federally threatened Coastal Gnatcatcher, to dense swaths of black mustard displacing precious native habitat and food resources.

The timeline in which an invasive species establishes itself in a novel environment directly affects how well it can be controlled. Black mustard, for example, will likely never be fully extirpated from Orange County. Believed to have been introduced to California in the era of Spanish missionaries, it has had centuries to spread and reproduce, accumulating a countless number of seeds in our soils. Accordingly, for the management of an established invasive like black mustard, local containment is the only realistic possibility. On the bright side, however, the full eradication of an invasive species is entirely possible if they are detected early enough.

Prominent local botanist Ron Vanderhoff and the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society currently recognize around 20 plant species as “Emergent Invasives.” They are of particular priority in our open spaces, because their populations are still very small, if present at all. This means they have the greatest potential to be effectively controlled and eradicated. To do so, early detection of these plants is vital!

Our volunteer Invasive Plant Patrol (IPP) does just that. Simplified, the IPP is a program that gets certified, long-term volunteers out on the trails, patrolling areas in our parks with the highest probability of having new infestations of these emergent weeds. Along the way, they learn about native, non-native, and invasive plants, weed treatment strategies, and all about Calflora, the database we use to share plant observations with local land managers and plant lovers. Volunteers don’t need to be plant experts – ID guides for the emergent weeds are provided and the learning curve is smooth. The IPP is for all experience levels!

As someone who spends most of the work week in the field, the thing that excites me most about the recent rains is the prospect of finding new and strange plants popping up in places I’ve never seen them before. You can find me in the open spaces any day of the week on my hands and knees, examining seedlings and hoping to find something interesting. Compared to last year’s relatively minimal precipitation and seedling germination, this year is on course to be the wildflower lover’s absolute dream! But with that also comes the possibility of the introduction of new weeds. Our Invasive Plant Patrol will be out and about, on the alert for these potential invaders. Interested in joining the team? Joining us for one of our public volunteer events is a great place to start. Pull some weeds or help repair a trail, and get to know LCF and what we’re all about. And for certified volunteers, the next IPP event will take place on April 16th.

For more information on the current emergent weeds of Orange County, check these resources out:

https://www.calflora.org//app/ipl?list_id=px388

https://www.occnps.org/invasives/emergent-invasive-plant-management-program.html

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.

Why?

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.

Why?

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.