On any given weekend in Laguna Beach, where Canyon Acres Drive bumps into the brushy hillside, hikers and their dogs trot up an unmarked trail while mountain bikers fly down a steep dirt path once used as a fire road.
For years, hikers have been using this trail and several others along Laguna Canyon Road to get from one wilderness park to another. But because the land was private, the rule of the road had always been: Enter at your own risk.
Seventy acres of wild lands between Orange County's two largest wilderness parks have been purchased by Laguna Beach and added to the county parks system for permanent preservation.
The additions to the park include a 36-acre chunk of land previously owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network and a 34-acre piece purchased from the Wainwright family.
"People were sort of trespassing across these trails," said Scott Ferguson, senior project manager for the Trust for Public Land, which negotiated the purchase.
The public will get a preview of the trails, which link ridge trails above Laguna Canyon to the Aliso Canyon trail, after a dedication ceremony Wednesday.
Although hikers and mountain bikers will be allowed to explore the trails that day, the land won't officially reopen for three to five months while lease arrangements are completed between the city and the county, which will manage the parkland.
Laguna Beach acquired the 36-acre Trinity parcel for $500,000 and the 34-acre Wainwright property for $300,000. Funds for the purchases came from a $12.5-million state park bond passed in 2000.
The Trinity and Wainwright parcels were high on the preservationists' lists because of their strategic locations -- between the two wilderness parks -- and rich habitat. The coastal sage scrub habitat is home to field mice, coyotes and bobcats.
The preservationists hope to buy a third piece of privately held land located between the Trinity and Wainwright land.
Mary Fegraus, executive director of the Laguna Canyon Foundation, said the two properties that were purchased have been vacant for more than 20 years, save the occasional trespasser. The canyon's jagged limestone cliffs and steep ravines limited development possibilities.
"They were still available and still private, so anything could happen to them," she said. "The only way we could really secure the land was to purchase it."
These acquisitions also add credibility to the canyon foundation, which spearheaded the land acquisition project, Fegraus said, and could facilitate future deals between the foundation and private landowners.
Opening conversation with the Tustin-based Trinity Broadcasting Network didn't present many logistical problems, Ferguson recalled, but tracking down the owner of the Wainwright property required some detective work.
"Nobody knew where they were. We just knew they lived somewhere in Germany," Ferguson said. It turned out that the family had owned the land for more than 40 years.
"It was actually very good timing. He had loved it but wasn't sure what to do with it," Ferguson said. "He was quite pleased with the fact that it would be preserved."
News of the trails opening was cheered by mountain biking enthusiasts."I think it's nothing but a good thing," said Grant Curtis, president of SHARE Mountain Bike Club. The group does volunteer trail maintenance in Orange County and state parks.
"Orange County has been very good at setting aside lots of property for access and recreation where you can get out and live a little and explore a little and not be in a mall," he said.