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The Sinks Promises a Grand Walk Through Private Canyon Property

October 06, 1994|RICK VANDERKNYFF | Rick VanderKnyff is a member of The Times Orange County Edition staff. and

The Grand Canyon of Orange County?

That's how some describe the Sinks, dramatic sandstone cliffs that rise 150 feet in a remote area off Santiago Canyon Road in the county's hilly northeastern corner.

If you've never heard of or seen the Sinks, join the club--it's on private Irvine Co. property.

For 1 1/2 years, however, guided walks coordinated through the Nature Conservancy have opened the scenery to the public for the first time.

The 7,600-acre parcel that includes the Sinks, now known as the northern reserve, has been designated for eventual inclusion in the county park system, and will probably someday become part of Whiting Ranch Regional Park. There is an additional 6,800 acres of Irvine Co. property adjacent to Laguna Coast Wilderness Park near Laguna Beach; known as the southern reserve, it is also designated as future parkland.

Rather than wait for the two properties to be officially handed over to the county, the Irvine Co. decided to invite the public to take a look by offering limited tours through the Nature Conservancy.

At the northern reserve, moderate 2 1/2-hour walks are offered each Saturday morning at 7:30 and 10. Twice a month, more ambitious hikers can take part in a 10-mile, five-hour hike that is moderately strenuous (the next 10-mile hikes are Saturday and Oct. 22, at 7 a.m.).

Meanwhile, at the southern reserve, walking tours are offered each Saturday at 7:30 and 9 a.m. Both reserves offer occasional equestrian and mountain biking tours; a cycling tour of the northern reserve will be offered Sunday at 8 a.m., and an equestrian ride through the southern reserve is planned for Oct. 16 at 9:30 a.m.

All tours require advance phone registration, and Nature Conservancy officers will provide directions to staging areas at that time.

Groups for the hikes are held to a maximum of 20, but Nature Conservancy docent coordinator Mark Sanderson said that although there was a waiting list in the early months, attendance has been down recently.

"Fall is one of the nicest times to be out there," he said of the northern reserve, adding that the weather is cool, and animal activity tends to increase.

Among the animals that might be seen are mule deer and bobcat. Acorns carpet the ground, keeping the acorn woodpeckers busy as they stock up for winter.

Walks in the southern reserve tour the areas that burned in last season's wildfire, Sanderson said. That affords participants a chance to "learn about the role fire plays in the maintenance of these natural areas."

All guides are volunteers.

"We're really fortunate in attracting some of Orange County's top-notch biologists and naturalists," Sanderson said.

The Nature Conservancy is getting ready to train its next group of volunteers, and anyone interested is invited to call. The 10-week program involves about 50 hours of training and begins later this month.

Tour itineraries vary from week to week, so return visits won't necessarily cover the same ground.


Amigos de Bolsa Chica offers its 15th annual "Running Is for the Birds" on Saturday, with a 10K run (8:30 a.m.), 5K run/walk (8:40 a.m.) and 1K youth run, ages 5 to 12 (9 a.m.).

Registration is from 7 to 8 a.m. at the start point at Bolsa Chica State Beach, opposite the Bolsa Chica wetlands at Pacific Coast Highway and Warner Avenue.

The $20 entry fee includes a T-shirt; proceeds benefit efforts to preserve the wetlands. Information: (714) 897-7003.

* What: Hiking tours of Irvine Co. reserves.

* When: Northern reserve, each Saturday at 7:30 and 10 a.m.; southern reserve, Saturdays at 7:30 and 9 a.m. For biking and equestrian events, see story above.

* Where: Staging areas vary; call for information.

* Wherewithal: Free.

* Where to call: (714) 832-7478.

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