Blog Archives

Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area is a Special Place

If you’ve driven the 241 Toll Road at or near Oso Parkway in Rancho Santa Margarita, you’ve seen Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area (UCCCA); you probably even smiled to admire such a rare sight – open space in Orange County.

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UCCCA is the Transportation Corridor Agencies’ (TCA) largest mitigation site. At 1,158 acres, seven Disneyland’s could fit within its boundaries.

Here, you’re surrounded by rolling hills of coastal sage scrub, patches of Prickly Pear Cactus, tiny coastal California Gnatcatchers, and families of deer.IMG_3472

TCA’s Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area was originally planned for residential development and a golf course; however, in 1996, TCA, in partnership with environmental organizations and the resource agencies, placed the nearly 1,200 acres of land into permanent open space.  Conservation of UCCCA plays a critical role in supporting and providing habitat for the federally listed California gnatcatcher and coastal cactus wren.  The site also provides valuable connectivity for wildlife movement between O’Neill Regional Park and Chiquita Ridge to the south.

In 2016 we prayed for rain, but despite the drought, the Gnatcatchers endured. And 2017’s bountiful rain brought out rarely seen reptiles; all at the pristine Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area.

DSC_7696The next time you drive The Toll Roads (State Routes 73, 133, 241 and 261), enjoy the view (and the perks of congestion-free travel!). Most of the slopes and hills adjacent to The Toll Roads were planted with native habitat to blend seamlessly into the surrounding landscape. Thriving native plants have been weaned off supplemental water and fertilizer for decades.

UCCCA is just one of TCA’s 17 open spaces that have been conserved over the past 25 years. Check back soon to see what happens when we provide exclusive access to UCCCA to nearly 40 Plein Air artists to celebrate Earth Day. We can’t wait to see what vibrant and colorful news this spring will bring!

Restoration & Revitalization: 25 Years in the Making

We go together like peas and carrots; green eggs and ham, John Lennon and Yoko Ono. But toll roads and preserving the environment? Yes, it’s true. (Cue the screeching brakes of car coming to a halt.)

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The Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) does more than operate Orange County’s 51-miles of toll roads. TCA protects the natural resources of more than 2,100 acres of habitat and open space in 17 locations. 2,100 acres – that’s about two-and-a-half times as big as New York City’s Central Park!

Protect Eco SystemsIn the 1970s, when Earth Day was getting underway, studies showed the need for new roads to serve Orange County’s growing population. By 1981, the future routes for what would become The Toll Roads, were roughly sketched onto county road plans. By 1990, TCA was working with the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, California Coastal Commission, California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Federal Highway Administration to secure environmental approvals and permits outlining the mitigation and restoration needed to move forward with construction.

Along The Toll Roads, nature’s bright show has been more than 25 years in the making. The slopes and nearby hillsides were first seeded with a mix of native plants back when The Toll Roads first opened. Custom seed mixes designed for each slope’s sun and moisture conditions sprouted into the mix of wildflowers, sages and shrubs seen today. The sustenance of the area’s California gnatcatcher population over decades is one way we know the planning and planting were successful. Today, the small birds nest in sagebrush and eat insects attracted to the wildflowers and other plants. The colorful spring views for drivers along The Toll Roads are just a beautiful bonus.

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Check out our Environmental Initiatives to learn how TCA has replanted native vegetation, restored habitats for threatened species, conducted scientific studies, removed invasive and non-native plants and improved waterways and creeks.