MISSION VIEJO — A blue-ribbon panel of local environmentalists will meet within the next two weeks to discuss ways to bring 67 acres of empty fields back to life, city officials said.
Appointed to a re-vegetation task force by the City Council last week, the group will begin the task of restoring the open space off Los Alisos Boulevard near Santa Margarita Parkway.
"Our job will be trying to reintroduce some of the native species that originally existed here," said Kelly Doyle, city parks director and a member of the task force. "We want to get this area back to its natural state."
The land became controversial last year when the Mission Viejo Co. used heavy machinery to clear the area of scrub brush as a fire prevention measure. Angry environmentalists accused the developer of purposely removing potentially endangered plant life.
Eventually, the Mission Viejo Co. donated the land to the city as part of a citywide development agreement signed earlier this year. The city is expected to take title to the property within 60 days.
With the help of many of the same naturalists who protested the clearing of the land, the city will start planning to revive the site. Some task force members said the job will be more than just planting a few seeds and transplanting shrubs.
"It's not always that simple," biologist Fred Roberts said. "There is actually a lot of strategy that goes into a project like this."
Roberts said he will serve as an adviser to the task force, offering tips on which species should be introduced into the area.
Planning will be the key to the re-vegetation project, Doyle said.
"You can't just throw a bunch of seeds in the ground and hope that they grow," he said. "A lot of what we can do will depend on how much money will have."
Once completed, the land will become public open space. Doyle said the site will be treated much like Wilderness Glen Park, which is left undeveloped to serve as a nature classroom for area schools.
"We might form some limited trails," he said. "That would be about the extent of this. We intend to leave this land as it was."