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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!

What is Earth Day?

In 1970, a gallon of gas cost 36 cents and 18-year-olds could vote. In 1970, folks rocked out to the likes of Jimi Hendrix and The Who with a lava lamp in their room. And, specifically on April 22, 1970, Earth Day was born.

Earth-DayAccording to the nonprofit organization Earth Day Network, the first Earth Day celebrations took place at 2,000 colleges and universities across the U.S. and 20 million Americans participated. Inspired by an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara in 1969, the intent of Earth Day is to promote change in human behavior and provoke policy changes to protect the Earth our future generations will inherit.

Nearly half a century later, more than one billion people celebrate Earth Day throughout the world. Various events are held to demonstrate support for environmental protection.

How do The Toll Roads celebrate Earth Day? For more than a quarter century, the Transportation Corridor Agencies (TCA) has been a leading agency in environmental stewardship, restoration and preservation. TCA has replanted native vegetation and restored habitats for threatened species at 17 sites throughout Orange County; resulting in more than 2,100 acres of habitat set aside for native animals to continue thrive as Orange County grows.

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(Photo: flickr)

And this year, we’re celebrating Earth Day by providing exclusive access to the Upper Chiquita Canyon Conservation Area to nearly 40 Plein Air artists from SOCALPAPA. In French, “plein air” means “open air” or “outside” and the picturesque Upper Chiquita Canyon is a painter’s delight. We’re thrilled to open a pristine outdoor setting that is rarely open to the public, located near the south end of the 241 Toll Road in Rancho Santa Margarita.

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(Photo: SOCALPAPA)

Fun Fact – Earth Day Network has announced their ambitious plan to plant 7.8 billion trees by Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary in 2020. They report “trees are essential tools in the fight for a cleaner, sustainable environment and in one year, a single acre of mature trees absorbs the same amount of carbon dioxide produced by driving the average consumer car 26,000 miles.”

Read on to learn more fun Earth Day facts and stay tuned to see how we prepare for this unique special event.