By John McKinney
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West Coyote Hills
Take a Hike and Save the Hills
Rising above inland valleys and the San Gabriel River plain, the West Coyote Hills are a thriving ecosystem that hosts a wide diversity (more than 130 species) of plants and animals. The hills have the dubious distinction of being the only remaining unprotected natural landscape left in densely urbanized-suburbanized north Orange County.
Landowner Chevron Texaco, through its subsidiary Pacific Coast Homes, intends to construct 760 homes, plus commercial buildings on the last 510 acres of undeveloped land. In previous decades, the company subdivided another 1200 acres of hills with homes and golf courses.
Conservationists, particularly Friends of Coyote Hills, and the Sierra Club’s Coyote Hills Task Force, have spearheaded the drive to save the hills as a park/nature preserve. Saving the hills, they argue, will be of great benefit to a part of Orange County that by all accounts is “open-space starved.” The would-be developer claims its latest subdivision proposal will leave 280 acres as natural open space and add eight miles of multi-use trail.
Chevron first proposed building homes in the hills in 1977, sparking what has become one of Southern California’s most prolonged conservation battles. As oil production faded away, local conservationists pushed a pro-park/open space platform for the Coyote Hills. One success occurred in 1983, when the city of Fullerton acquired 72 acres to create a nature preserve. Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve, also called West Coyote Hills Nature Preserve on some maps, honors a Fullerton mayor/ council member who worked to retain a portion of the hills in a natural state.
As conservationists see it, the hills are the last of the wild for four now scarce plant communities in northern Orange County: coyote brush, southern willow scrub, coast prickly pear and California sagebrush. For a century, the West Coyote Hills were dotted with oil derricks, but since oil drilling operations ceased, the landscape is regenerating, and can even look lovely at times. In springtime, the Coyote Hills are colored by purple phacelia, yellow sun cups and orange monkeyflowers.
The hills are habitat for many bird species including two threatened ones—the California gnatcatcher and coastal cactus wren. Towhees and California quail are among the more commonly sighted birds. The hills are a stopover on the Pacific Flyway for migratory birds, and a wintering ground for hawks and harriers.
As for the hiking, well, most of the West Coyote Hills and trails are not in the public domain so no trail descriptions will be provided in this guide. (You do get a pretty good look at the hills via the Fullerton Loop; see the hike write-up in this book.)
For a great introduction to the hills and the importance of saving them, I suggest you join one of the free naturalist guided hikes sponsored by the Friends of the Coyote Hills. Find out about these hikes, usually offered the first Saturday of every month, by visiting www.coyotehills.org
One attraction for hikers to the top of the hills are the 360-degree panoramic views that take in the San Gabriel and San Bernardino mountain ranges, downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Mountains and Catalina Island.
Directions to trailhead: From the Riverside Freeway (91), exit on Euclid Street and drive about three miles north to Lakeview Drive and the entrance to Laguna Lake Park on the right. Guided hikes begin at the park’s equestrian center.
The small, publicly accessible part of the hills are just south of Laguna Lake Park. An westbound trail departs from Euclid Street.
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