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All along Orange County's north coastal region (Huntington Beach, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach), formerly environmentally abused wetlands and floodplains are in the process of being restored to some semblance of an original condition. Talbert Nature Preserve, which lies alongside the channelized Santa Ana River a couple of miles inland from the ocean, is one such place. It's a work in progress, with a north part already revegetated with native plants and laced with wide, smooth trails for hikers, horses, and bikers, and a south part currently "under construction."

The planting of native vegetation in the preserve is being guided both by protection of the remaining native vegetation on site and by efforts to recreate plant communities similar to those that existed in this region before nearly every available acre was put to use for agriculture, housing, and industry. Plant "zones" in the preserve are identified by means of trailside interpretive plaques. The zones include coastal strand, native grassland, alluvial woodland, and wetland vegetation. Thus the preserve serves as a native botanical garden, a refuge for wildlife, an educational resource, and a recreational resource for Orange Countians and visitors.

The main access to the north preserve is by way of Fairview Park in the city of Costa Mesa. Drive into the park's main entrance, on the west side of Placentia Avenue, one mile north of Victoria Street, and find a free parking space. From the nearby restrooms, walk a short distance west, and turn right on the paved bike path. Follow the path north and then west down a hill until you reach the Talbert Nature Preserve's entrance on the left, which is marked by a dome-shaped restroom building and an information kiosk.

A wide, flat, decomposed-granite path suitable for hikers, cyclists, and horses runs toward the south from the entrance for a short mile, beneath the brow of a steep bluff. It then connects with a segment of paved bike path leading to Victoria Street. Short of that juncture, there are opportunities to branch west and loop back to the entrance using unimproved trails. Those alternate trails may turn muddy after significant rainfall.

Talbert Nature Preserve is an extraordinarily quiet place, effectively screened from traffic noise by the bluff rising on the east and levees on west which effectively deaden the din from the surrounding cityscape. During this late part of the year, you can often spot 10,000-foot Mount San Antonio looming in the north, its crest mantled with snow with the arrival of the first major storm of the season.

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