Question-Mark Park

There's no shortage of lush jogging trails in Orange County: Newport's Back Bay, Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Craig Regional Park in Brea, Mile Square Park in Fountain Valley. And while trees, flowers and streams are nice, where do you go when you want something grittier-a place where toxic fumes fill the air and deafening noise blasts your ears? More specifically, when was the last time you wanted to jog at an airport but couldn't because some petty bureaucrat in a jump suit wouldn't let you on the tarmac?

Orange County officials feel your pain. On April 29, they announced yet another modification to their airport proposal, one designed to make their 227,000-operations-per-year El Toro International Airport friendlier-to furry animals, schoolchildren and joggers.

As part of the county's “Something for Everyone” plan, El Toro's incarnation of the moment features a 770-acre question-mark-shaped park wrapping around the base's eastern perimeter.

“[W]e preserve the balance between development and open space, which is necessary to support economic prosperity and maintain our quality of life in Orange County,” said El Toro program manager Courtney Wiercioch in a press release glorifying the new plan as if it were produced by some kind of suburban Aldo Leopold. “[W]e provide neighboring areas with pleasant 'green' views and affordable recreational opportunities.”

So true. The release outlined all sorts of neat things at the new park: an air museum, ball fields, horse stables, two-count 'em, two!-18-hole golf courses, and even some orange groves and strawberry fields “to recall Orange County's origins.”

But Wiercioch neglected to mention that the new park-because it will lie within 1,000 feet of a massive international airport-has a few limitations. The 1,000-foot-wide wildlife corridor (“to create a home for threatened species”)-which so astonished airport warlord George Argyros at the Sept. 10, 1998, El Toro Citizens Advisory Commission meeting (“Deer need a thousand feet?!”)-is now only 500 feet wide. The threatened species will have to make due, but golfers can take advantage of the “no water hazards” rule at the golf courses. It appears a large pool of standing water could attract large birds, which, if sucked into the engines of the planes flying directly over the courses, could cause a nasty crash. For the foreseeable future, then, the only water hazard at El Toro will remain that trichloroethylene-contaminated plume that's leaking from the base into Irvine.


Even with these limits, there's no question the county's decision to wrap major parkland around El Toro is bold. Think of the message county planners are sending by putting golf courses and ball fields inside the so-called “crash zones” at the ends of the runways. Think of the courage required to place horse stables at the end of Runway 34-where departing 747s and 777s will blast the horses with bursts of nearly 100 decibels day and night.

County officials say the new park will open in 2003 or 2004. We can hardly wait.

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