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Day Hike

A Tidal Haven--So Far--for Birds, Plants at Bolsa Chica

June 04, 1988|JOHN MCKINNEY

Bolsa Chica wetlands, an 1,800-acre tidal basin surrounded by the city of Huntington Beach, is one of Southern California's most valuable oceanfront properties. The somewhat degraded marshland has been the scene of a long dispute between Signal Oil Co., the principal landholder, which would like to develop a marina and suburb, and Amigos de Bolsa Chica, who would like to preserve the marsh as a stopover for migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway and as a habitat for endangered species.

For many centuries the wetlands were the bountiful home of Indians, until a Mission-era land grant gave retiring Spanish soldier Manuel Nieto title to a portion of Bolsa Chica. Although the coastal marsh proved useless for farming and ranching to Nieto and succeeding owners, the abundant wildlife attracted game hunters from all over Southern California. At the turn of the century the Bolsa Chica Gun Club, a group of Pasadena businessmen, acquired title to the land and created a hunting preserve. In order to stabilize their duck pond, they dammed off the ocean waters, thus starting the demise of the wetland.

A Century of Oil

In the 1920s, oil was discovered at Bolsa Chica. Dikes were erected, water was drained, wells were drilled and roads were built across the marsh. In fact, oil production is scheduled to continue through the year 2020.

Portions of the marsh bordering Pacific Coast Highway have been restored by the state and are now part of an ecological preserve managed by the Fish & Game Department. If voters approve the park bonds measure, Proposition 70, on Tuesday, $1.5 million would be allocated to preserve the bluffs above Huntington Beach and to restore the Bolsa Chica wetlands.

The loop trail around the wetlands tours the most attractive section. Bring your binoculars. Birding is quite good here.

Directions to trailhead: Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is just opposite the main entrance of Bolsa Chica State Beach on Pacific Coast Highway. From the San Diego Freeway, exit on Beach Boulevard and follow it to the beach. Head north on Pacific Coast Highway for four miles to the reserve entrance (or exit the freeway on Warner Avenue, follow it to Pacific Coast Highway and drive south to the reserve).

The Walk: At the trailhead is a sign giving some Bolsa Chica history. Cross the lagoon on the bridge, where other signs offer information about marshland plants and birds. The loop trail soon begins, following a levee around the marsh. You'll pass fields of pickleweed and cordgrass, sun-baked mud flats, the remains of oil drilling equipment. Three endangered birds, savanna sparrows, clapper rails and California least terns, are sometimes seen here.

At the north end of the loop you can bear right on a closed road to an overlook. As you return, you cross the lagoon on another bridge and return to the parking area on a path paralleling Pacific Coast Highway.

Bolsa Chica Lagoon Loop Trail

3 miles round trip.

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