“Old Laguna,” Joseph Kleitsch, circa 1923-24
Orange County’s only natural lakes are found in Laguna Canyon. The main waterway that drains these lakes, then collects water from the side canyons, and runs to the ocean is Laguna Canyon Creek.
In the early twentieth century when Laguna was founded by settlers and artists, Laguna Canyon Creek gracefully meandered the 5.5 miles from the spring-fed Laguna Lakes to the ocean. Native sycamores and willows grew along the creek and were favored subjects of early plein air painters.
However, decades of development have left Laguna Canyon Creek in a condition of neglect, disrepair, and urban sterility. A once-beautiful natural watercourse has been reduced to what many people refer to as a “ditch” or “the channel”.
A stretch of Laguna Canyon Creek near the Food Pantry. Photo credit: Allan Schoenherr
Laguna Greenbelt board members are leading a grassroots effort to beautify the creek and its immediate surroundings while providing wildlife habitat, trail opportunities, and other environmental enhancements. Their recommendations are captured in the Laguna Canyon Creek Restoration Plan.
The term “creek restoration” is not used literally. The plan assumes that the piped and channelized portions of the creek will likely remain intact and that Laguna Canyon Creek cannot be brought back to its original natural beauty. However, there is no doubt that the creek can be improved, from both an esthetic and ecological standpoint. As an example, newly-planted native trees along the watercourse would restore some aspects of the creek’s original character and beauty while making it more visible to passersby. The intention is not to replicate the original creek, but to restore the spirit of the creek.
The plan proposes 6-8 improvements for each of three sections along Laguna Canyon Creek. These improvements include: planting trees, removing invasive plants that choke the watercourse, improving the appearance of fencing and channel walls, and introducing trails that follow the creek through the canyon. Proposed improvements at the Jim Dilley Preserve entrance are of particular interest to the Laguna Greenbelt since this area is named after our founder.
Trails would allow people to interact more with the creek. Photo credit: KimberlyK.com
Every Bit Helps!
The plan’s recommendations are for the most part simple and inexpensive, and can be tackled individually as funding is identified. It is not a work plan for the city, but a vision for the community at large to pursue. Just as improvements along the creek at the Dog Park were made possible by tree donations and volunteer labor, the community can become involved in carrying out further restoration work. Private and public property owners along the creek can also participate by making or allowing improvements.
With all the successes in establishing the 22,000 acre Laguna Greenbelt land preserve, the specific care and attention to its centerpiece creek seems to have slipped into the abyss of neglect. To this day, the creek remains Laguna Canyon’s Hidden Gem. As Lida Lenney once said: “Preserving the canyon is crucial, and the creek is the centerpiece. Restoring the creek is essential.”
Laguna Canyon Creek Restoration Plan (PDF) – March 2015
The Laguna Canyon Creek Restoration Plan has recommendations for three “reaches” along the creek. In this graphic, the creek is shown in blue where it is open and natural, yellow where it is channelized and open, and red where it is channelized and covered.