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Cougar Country : Rancho Carrillo 'Perfect for Kids' Despite Nearby Lion Attacks

November 17, 1986|GORDON GRANT | Times Staff Writer

Rancho Carrillo cannot be found on road maps or in almost any other collection of maps, except in very small print on U.S. Forest Service charts.

It's a bucolic spot where, one resident said, "the well water is so good, I make my own beer with it."

It is home for roughly 200 people, including about 40 children, located about three miles east of the center of the Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park near San Juan Capistrano, where two children--not from Rancho Carrillo--have been attacked by mountain lions this year.

That's three miles as the crow flies, well within the range of any cougar passing through Caspers Park. But talk about mountain lions and any threat they may pose for small children generally is brushed aside by the residents of Rancho Carrillo.

Raised Around Animals

"All the kids up here are raised around animals, wild ones and tame ones," said Robin Alarcon, who with her husband, Joe, has two children, ages 7 and 4. "I have coyotes in my pasture, and I've seen lions, but this, to me, is the perfect place to raise kids.

"There's a hawk that sits in a certain tree every day. My kids have named him Sam, and when they walk by, if he happens not to be in his tree, they ask about him.

"They're aware of animals, and now (since the attacks) all the families like to keep their very small kids playing in the front yard where they can be watched, rather than out back near the woods."

Rancho Carrillo may be just a few miles from Caspers Park as the crow flies, but in the rugged mountains of southeastern Orange County, it is a seven-mile drive over a narrow, twisting road that climbs 2,500 feet up from Ortega Highway before dropping slightly into a small, quiet valley.

The homes--some of which could be called luxurious--are on large plots of mostly 2 1/2 acres, with well-kept white fences marking horse corrals and yards. The air is clear, there is a stillness about, and everybody knows everybody else.

Belonged to Actor's Family

Rancho Carrillo once was the 235-acre property of the family of the late motion picture actor Leo Carrillo. The family acquired the land, within the boundaries of Cleveland National Forest, between 1916 and 1920 under the Homestead Act, according to Kathy Turner, resources assistant in the national forest's Trabuco District.

The Carrillos raised cattle and did some farming in the valley until it was acquired by developers and subdivided in 1972, according to resident Omar Woods. But it is still a homey place, where stubborn residents declined offers by the Riverside County Fire Department to build a fire station.

"We're building our own fire station," Woods said. "The Riverside County Fire Department said if we gave them the land, they would build us a station, but we didn't want it that way.

"We raised money by giving potluck dinners and dances and having little sales, and the building is just about finished. I think we raised $60,000 or $70,000, and we're doing a lot of the labor ourselves."

Resident Judy Martin said the fire station is near enough to completion to serve as the center of just about all activities in the valley.

"The social life here is just wonderful," she said. "We're like an extended family unit. Everybody helps everybody."

When there's a party or a dance, the Rancho's two rather old fire trucks are backed out to make room for the goings-on, which are attended by the children as well as the adults, Martin said.

No Traffic

Her friend, Kitty Purvis, who with her husband, John, has three children ages 9, 6 and 4, said, "Where else but here can you let your young ones ride three-wheel bikes all around the neighborhood to visit their friends without worrying about them. There's just almost no traffic. Only one of your neighbors' cars now and then."

Despite the widespread publicity over the cougar attacks on a 5-year-old El Toro girl in Caspers Park last March, and on a 6-year-old Huntington Beach boy in October, life has scarcely changed for the Rancho Carrillo youngsters living within the range of the big cats. And their parents would rather talk about the beauties of their wilderness homes.

Alarcon said most of the children are involved in 4-H projects raising sheep, goats, rabbits and other farm animals.

"Now, can you imagine this?" she demanded. "My kids once took some animals to a market in San Juan Capistrano for a little show. A city kid walked up to one of our rabbits and said 'Gee, look at the duck,' and then started petting it and couldn't get over the way it felt, never had felt anything like that before.

"The children up here know about animals, wild and tame. They accept their dying and they see them born--and they know a sweet-looking deer can kill you with one kick of its sharp hoof."

Alarcon's point is clear: Learn something about animals. Realize that any wild animal is just that--wild--and respect that fact.

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