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A Stroll for Bird Lovers and Beachgoers

July 07, 2002|JOHN McKINNEY

Birds like it. Businesses do too. That explains why Ormond Beach has been the scene of a long struggle between conservationists and developers.

People committed to preserving an extensive salt-marsh ecosystem have been pitted against coastal industrialists and Oxnard developers who are eager to build homes.

Fortunately for wildlife, the Coastal Conservancy has been purchasing land along the Ormond shoreline.

In 2000 the conservancy acquired 600 acres from Southern California Edison, and a couple of months ago the state agency got approval to buy 265 acres of wetlands behind Ormond Beach. Plans are to add Ormond Beach to a wetlands preserve (in need of restoration) extending about nine miles from Point Mugu to Port Hueneme.

Some proud locals refer to Ormond Beach as "the jewel of Oxnard."

More objective beachgoers might not be so kind. The beach is backed by a paper mill, a sewage treatment facility and a huge power plant as well as a marsh that's a mess.

Jewel or not, Ormond Beach has potential. Even in its current state, the wetlands offer habitat for dozens of bird species, including rare ones such as the least tern, western snowy plover and California brown pelican.

The best place for such birds--and those who like to watch them--is a freshwater lagoon fed by agricultural runoff and ground water. Ecologists intend to restore the Ormond wetlands' water supply, which has been compromised for more than a century by dams and diversions.

But Ormond Beach offers more than a promise of things to come. It's a fine beach walk, and explorations of sand dunes and marsh habitats will reveal rare birds and plants.

Directions to the trail head: You can start walking the three-mile stretch of Ormond Beach from either end. To start from the beach's north end, take California Highway 1 to the Hueneme Road exit, just south of Oxnard. Drive west on Hueneme Road for about five miles, until you see a turnoff for Port Hueneme Beach Park. The park has water, restrooms, picnic tables, a pier and parking (for a fee).

To start at the beach's south end, follow the same directions but stay on Hueneme Road for only a couple of miles. Turn left (south) on Arnold Road and follow it to the section of Ormond Beach bordering the Point Mugu Naval Air Station.

A separate route loops around the wetlands. Drive on Hueneme Road as though you're going to Port Hueneme Beach Park, but half a mile before the park turnoff, make a left on Perkins Road. Continue south to the road's end and a parking area.

The hikes: Let's assume you're starting the beach walk from Ormond's north end, at Port Hueneme Beach Park and its pier.

Leave behind the surfers and sunbathers and head south down Ormond Beach, walking along the surf line or on a parallel path slightly inland, alongside the marsh.

Three miles from the pier, you will reach the end of the public beach at Arnold Road and the Point Mugu naval station.

The separate wetlands trail head has a view of the Hueneme drainage channel.

Footbridges on the north and south end of the channel allow you to loop around a part of the wetlands.

Look for coots patrolling the lagoon, plus other waterfowl, native and migratory. Note that the waterways run parallel to the shore and thwart access to Ormond Beach.

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For more of John McKinney's tips, visit www.thetrailmaster.com.

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