Walking Santiago Creek in Santa Ana
May 15, 2009 § 13 Comments
I had a fun time this afternoon meeting up with three of my closest friends from my high school days in Orange County. Todd McHenry, Kyle Tonokawa, David Schmid and I all attended Tustin Presbyterian Church together, as well as being active in Boy Scout Troop 33. It was great to catch up with these folks – thanks, in part to the wonders of Facebook. I shared my book with them, and David and I ended up speaking about creek restoration efforts that he’s been involved with in the neighborhood where he lives in Santa Ana.
Dave is excited about the idea of a greenway trail along the lower portion of Santiago Creek, a tributary of the Santa Ana River (which I used to bike along to get to the beach, when I was a kid.) Dave’s been discussing it with some folks at the Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance which works to preserve and restore the creek.
After lunch, we decided to head over to walk the John Fisher Park Hiking Trail – or what exists of it today. It begins at John Fisher Park in Santa Ana, near the intersection of Flower Street and Memory Lane. The above picture shows Todd, Dave, and Kyle atop the park-adjacent Flower Street Bridge over Santiago Creek – apparently a City Beautiful era bridge that was recently re-built. The first things Dave pointed out were these 1930’s WPA-built retaining walls, with steps leading down to the creek:
Here’s a photo from the middle of the park. As an L.A. River advocate, these sorts of hole-in-the-fence access points looked very familiar:
We went through a similar gap at the end of the fence at the back (east) end of the park, and walked along the north bank of the creek. There was a well-traveled dirt path along the bank of the dry creek (David is standing on the path in the photo at the top of this entry.) The existing trail has quite a few mature cottonwood trees and other vegetative cover. There was also plenty of arundo donax – an invasive bamboo plant that we also get too much of in many Southern California waterways. Though it’s a weed, it does indicate that there’s water underground at the site.
We continued upstream until we crossed under the 5 Freeway. Dave explained that the city of Santa Ana had worked to excavate earth below the freeway to create vertical clearance so a connection can be made to the bike path on the east side of the freeway. In that area, a parking lot for the Discovery Science Center had unfortunately encroached on the creek. Here’s the view upstream from the bike path bridge there:
David spoke about how he’s hoping that he can improve the rudimentary trail in this area. The project could include making unofficial access more official, removal of exotics, planting tree cover, and making the path more accessible for hikers and possibly mountain bikes. He’s hoping this might possibly as part of an Eagle Scout project, now that his son is part of Troop 33 that we’d all been in. He told us though, that there had been a fair amount of neighborhood opposition. On the north side of the creek, there’s accessible space between homes and the waterway, but on the south bank, homes directly abut. Downstream of Flower Street for just under a mile before the confluence with the Santa Ana, there’s very little right-of-way, with homes directly adjacent to the creek.
David had repeatedly mentioned various homeowner opposition, and as we were speaking, looking downstream from the bridge, one of them drove up. The woman pulled over, but left her prius running, as she sat in her driver’s seat and lectured us on how diligently the neighbors had worked to keep the creek inaccessible. She spoke at length about issues with homeless, gangs… and how the police can’t access the area to respond to these issues. I was thinking of trying to point out that bike access would mean that police, too, could have access… but David and I merely acknowledged that she was bringing up important issues. It wasn’t the place and time to confront.
I guess I should be (and am) grateful that this part of Santiago wasn’t paved with concrete, but I was struck by how dry the terrain there was. Well upstream of the site, there’s a dam at Irvine Lake. There were hardly any storm drains entering the creek, and no water on the surface. While it’s not uncommon for southland tributaries to be dry during the drier parts of the year, I wished that creek had a little more wetness… so it could be a little more recognizable as a waterway… and hopefully get a little more respect. Good luck to Dave and the Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance in their efforts.