The Big Santiago Creek Trail Debate

I lived in North Santa Ana for 33 years. I grew up there, my parents still live there, and a bunch of my friends and their parents still live there as well. I moved south in 2005.

I will say, Santa Ana has some great history. And Santa Ana was the place where I learned BMX riding and skate boarding. Growing up, if you didn’t do one or the other, you were pretty much an outcast. GT Bicycles was established in Santa Ana. I bought one of my first BMX bikes from them and I bought my first mountain bike from them.

I had several friends who had homes along the Santiago Creek: Carl and Eric on Rivera, Charlie & Chris on Riverside Drive. I also had a slew of other friends throughout the neighborhood: Joey, Brett, Jason, Stuart, Jeremy, and Justin to name a few.

One of the things we all loved to do growing up was riding Santiago Creek from Jack Fisher park, beyond what is now the Main Place, and into Orange. Tustin Avenue was about as far as we would normally go. Along the way, there were many BMX tracks built and demolished over the years. And just about every year, there would be at least one huge rain storm that would send the water levels of the Santiago Creek to its limits.

Photo from 1969: Santiago Creek – Hart Park in Orange

I’d like to also add that when we got into our teens, we started boogie boarding. Now, how does this relate to the Santiago Creek you may wonder? Well, the creek, during rainy times, was like the Grand Canyon to us. And yes, we stupidly would get on our boogie boards and ride it. We’re lucky to be alive. We were all fully aware that if we didn’t get out of the creek by about the Bristol Street bridge, we would end up in the Santa Ana river, and drown.

Here’s a video of the Santiago Creek at Irvine Park near where it begins at Irvine Lake. The creek at this point is about three or four times wider than the part where people want to build a paved trail. Also note what a paved trail looks like next to a creek. Notice all the trees along the embankment? Oh yeah that’s right, there are none. Notice the trees under water? That’s where the path would be during the rain.

And here’s what the creek looked like a bit further downstream during that same time. This is similar to the stretch between the 5 Freeway an Flower Street. Note that the area we’re talking about doesn’t have areas like this one to escape to if water levels rise.

During the same time period, a girl was rescued from the Santiago Creek:
http://www.ocregister.com/articles/girl-281777-boyd-three.html

I can recall many debates over the stretch of creek between the 5 Freeway and Flower Street, but the latest debates seem to be the greatest of them all. Organizations that have worked hard to upgrade and beautify the Santiago Creek trail system east of the 5 freeway are now demanding that Santa Ana change its master bike plan to create a connection, ultimately, between Orange and the Santa Ana River. Supporters want to remove 80 year old trees lining the Santiago Creek so that they can put a paved path along it. Quite frankly, I have not heard a more ridiculous request in all the time I lived in Santa Ana.

Now as the founder of a bike club, you have to be wondering by now, why would I be against a project that would create a trail connection? Three reasons come to mind: cost, environment, and safety.

Cost:

Putting aside the environmental devastation a project like this would cause for a moment, a paved path would be very expensive. Think about it: tree removal, pavement installation for a 1/4 mile, some levees to prevent the water from flooding it, etc. You get the idea.

Environment
Then there’s the displacement of wildlife. The Santiago Creek, in this area, hasn’t been touched by a human hand since the homes were build decades ago. It’s now a model representation of what happens when humans don’t interfere with nature. And they want to destroy all of that so they can ride their bikes? Something is very, very, very wrong about this idea.

Safety:

The Santiago Creek is at its most narrow width in this part of Santa Ana. That means water levels tend to be higher, and flow more quickly. People who go white water rafting are quite familiar with this natural phenomenon and they actually seek out stretches of river like this to test their skills. But people who are going for a bike ride on a paved path are typically not seeking out a white water rafting experience. This is what is likely to happen if a paved path is built along the Santiago Creek.

Now, of course I want to help the citizens of Orange and Santa Ana make a connection to the Santa Ana River bike path that is safe and reasonable. In my proposal, no trees get uprooted, nobody loses their property to eminent domain, there will be no reasonable lawsuits to defend, no major construction, no environmental impact, and cyclists will be much safer than they would be riding along the creek. Problem solved.

So here it is, my alternate route suggestion.

View Alternate Route – Santiago Park to Memory Lane in a larger map