More than 30 years ago, the Irvine Co. embarked on a plan to dedicate and preserve tens of thousands of acres of land to Orange County residents – and that pledge was fulfilled on Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors accepted a 20,000-acre grant from the developer.
Now the Irvine Co. says it plans to provide funding to support the open space, bringing its total financial commitment toward conservation efforts and public access to $50 million.
"When we announced our decision to permanently protect these magnificent lands 30 years ago, we made it very clear that ultimately the land would be owned and enjoyed by the people of Orange County,” said Irvine Co. Chairman Donald Bren, who led the firm's Open Space Initiative, launched in the 1980s. “(The) final segment of the gift ensures that these spectacular natural resources will provide a stunning array of outdoor opportunities and will be protected and cared for in perpetuity.”
The Irvine Co.’s land donations to the county date back to the 1800s, starting with the area that is now Irvine Regional Park. Then in the 1980s, the developer formalized its open-space preservation initiative. This latest 20,000-acre gift boosts the county's parkland by half and brings the Irvine Co.’s total donation to 50,000-acres.
In total, the gift is more than 10 times the size of L.A.'s Griffith Park and almost 60 times the size of Central Park. Additionally, the land preserves about half of the 93,000-acre Irvine Ranch from development, according to the firm.
The final portion adds Limestone, Fremont, Weir, Black Star and Gypsum canyons to the already pledged Bommer Canyon, Crystal Cove State Park, Upper Newport Bay, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park and Quail Hill.
The land, which has been designated a state and federal landmark, provides a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity" to boost public access, trails and resources, according to Janet Nguyen, chairwoman of the Board of Supervisors. The area, which is home to a range of plants, habitats and animals – some rare or endangered – offers residents a number of recreational activities, such as horseback riding, bird-watching and self-guided or docent-led wilderness hikes.
“As a steward of significant natural and cultural resources, OC Parks’ mission is to manage and operate a system of regional parks, beaches, harbors, trails and historic sites that are places of recreation and enduring value," said Supervisor Bill Campbell, who serves as vice chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "The land we are accepting today only enhances their opportunity.”
As part of the gift, the Irvine Co. announced plans to provide $4 million to establish the Orange County Parks Foundation. The funds will be combined with a $2 million donation from the Nature Conservancy to support land management and monitoring and the development of new park infrastructure on the space.
Additionally, the developer will provide a $1 million seed grant to support the newly formed Center for Environmental Biology at UCI. The funds will be used to support several biological research projects that will seek new recommendations for the proper care of the land.
"This funding allows the exceptional leadership of the Center to implement several important, multiyear research projects to help inform stewardship of the land," said Al Bennett, dean of UCI's School of Biological Sciences. "The center, the school, and UCI are ideally positioned to promote research at the urban-wilderness interface. We look forward to contributing to the comprehensive management of these magnificent areas."
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Map courtesy of irlandmarks.org.
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