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HIKING

Canyon's Paths Tell History of Orange County

August 22, 1993|JOHN McKINNEY

In 1899, "green space" in these parts had an entirely different meaning than it does today. Here in a remote canyon, local sportsmen introduced golf to Orange County.

Santa Ana and Orange duffers leased land from the Irvine Co. and laid out a nine-hole course. The "greens" were oil-soaked earthen patches, and the fairways were little more than brush-cleared canyon bottom. It must have been hard to make par in Golf Canyon, as it became known.

Today, Golf Canyon is the site of Peters Canyon Regional Park, Orange County's newest park. It's a pleasant green space on the edge of more suburb-in-the-making, on the eastern frontier of the communities of Orange and Tustin.

The park was created when the mega-landholder Irvine Co. donated 354 acres of Peters Canyon to the county.

The park highlight is a reservoir, a gathering place for many migratory and resident waterfowl. Bring binoculars and watch for herons and egrets along the willow-lined shores. Also watch the skies for the red-tailed and Cooper's hawks that frequently circle the eucalyptus groves in lower Peters Canyon.

Many a bellowing bullfrog can be heard calling from the lake shore. Apparently, the croakers have long found the canyon to their liking; in Spanish days, it was known as Canon de las Ranas, or Canyon of the Frogs.

The canyon's current name honors 1890s' barley and beans farmer James Peters, who built a home in the canyon.

A network of old Irvine Ranch roads and footpaths explore the canyon and its eastern wall. Most popular is Lake View Trail, the path around the reservoir. At the moment, the trail extends only halfway around the reservoir, but the county parks department is putting the finishing touches on a path around the eastern shore. Hikers should be able to loop the lake by the end of September, say park officials.

Guided, ranger-led nature walks of the lake and canyon begin at 10 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday. Meet at the big bulletin board by the parking lot.

Directions to trail head: From California 55 in Orange, exit on Chapman Avenue and head east about 4 1/2 miles to Jamboree Road. Turn right and proceed half a mile to Canyon View Avenue, then turn right again. The park is a short distance up the road on your left. There is plenty of free parking.

The hike: Join Lake View Trail as it meanders along the northern edge of Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir. The reservoir was built in 1931 by the Irvine Ranch for its agricultural operations. A lower reservoir was built in 1940, but as you'll see when you visit the lower canyon, it's dry these days and serves as an emergency flood-control basin.

The trail joins a dirt road on the west side of the lake, passes a couple of side trails leading down to the lake, then skirts the dam. When the eastern side of Lake View Trail is completed, you can loop back to the trail head, but for now, continue to East Ridge View Trail. At the trail junction is a tree-shaded bench.

Continue along the canyon bottom on Lower Canyon Trail. You'll pass Peters Canyon Creek Nature Trail--an avoidable, not very educational or interesting exercise--at the base of some nearby back yards.

As you near the southern end of the park, you'll pass a World War II "battlefield"; this part of Peters Canyon was used by the U.S. Army during the war to train troops and stage mock battles.

Visit the eucalyptus groves at the park's southern end, then, if you wish, join East Ridge View Trail for the return back up the canyon. The promised views are of the length of Peters Canyon, as well as fast-disappearing pastoral Orange County.

\o7 Hike with John McKinney's guidebook: "Day Hiker's Guide to Southern California" ($16.95). Send check or money order to Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Dept. 1, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.

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Orange County / Lake View, Lower Canyon, East Ridge View Trails Where: Peters Canyon Regional Park Distance: 2-6 miles round trip. Terrain: A lake, willow groves, brushy canyon. Highlights: Wildlife watching at Orange County's newest park. Degree of Difficulty: Easy to moderate. For More Information: Contact Peter's Canyon Regional Park, 2145 Windes Drive, Orange 92669, (714) 538-4400.

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