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A Hiking We Will Go

By Tom Osborne
By Tom Osborne

“OK my possums, listen up!” So says our hiking leader Charlotte Masarik in her disarming British-accented English when she wishes to give us trail directions, or explain the flora and fauna we are about to encounter. Her love of the Laguna Greenbelt, Laguna Bluebelt, and other local hiking areas is shared by all of the 15-25 or more outdoorsy Lagunans, who for years have trekked with Charlotte on these semi-weekly excursions. Occasionally, we go beyond the city limits to Crystal Cove or the Dana Point Headlands. Always, we have great fun, which often is punctuated by group photos and then breakfast at Laguna’s Zinc Café.

Charlotte was not always the group’s leader. The first person to have that honor was Louise Fleenor, a former Crystal Cove State Park docent/naturalist with whom Charlotte, Johanna Felder and others hiked in Laguna’s backcountry in the late 1990s. When Louise passed away in 2006, Charlotte, a birder and naturalist herself, took the helm. Taking the helm means she plans, maps, and sends out emails to the group announcing next week’s hikes, that is, those scheduled for Wednesday and Friday.

But her leadership involves more than scheduling: equally important, she keeps us informed on environmental issues coming before City Council. Consequently, the group was heavily involved in the Marine Protection Act hearings, the fight to save Crystal Cove before that, preservation of open space, and the list goes on. Why? Because of Charlotte’s fearless, relentless commitment to do all she can locally to steward what nature has given us. Beyond that, she notes that “women’s issues, walking for Planned Parenthood, and marching for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) are on our radar.”

As this might suggest, while we’re huffing and puffing our way up trails, public policy matters get aired by this cerebral group. A female physician advocates for charter schools, a former Israeli intelligence officer talks about that nation’s politics today, a retired UC Irvine professor shares his enthusiasm for mathematical applications to his field of anthropology, a professional singer provides us with an occasional song, former high school teachers discuss recent plays at South Coast Repertory Theater, a former member of the Laguna Beach Board of Education shares her policy views, others discuss climate change, and all these interesting exchanges seem to carry on from week to week. I confess, I joined this group to walk our local trails; however, the good company and conversation have become equally important to me.

Says Kris Evans:”I feel so fortunate to live in a town surrounded by open space, thanks to the foresight of people like Jim Dilley and Mark Chamberlain. The greenbelt is a gift beyond measure. I love hiking the trails of Crystal Cove and Aliso and Woods Canyon and am grateful to Charlotte and the hiking group for introducing me to new ones.”

Gene Felder, a local history buff and county supervisor-appointed member of the Greenbelt authority, added: “It has been wonderful to get to see and walk through areas that have been saved to be kept natural forever.”

In sum, says Charlotte: “We continue to be a close-knit body of friends, not just walking buddies, and mind out for each other in our daily lives, not just on the trail. Personally, I have grown so much in understanding and appreciating the dynamic and diverse folks who walk in our group, and there is a bond and love of sharing the outdoors that has no equal.”

Thus, say I, “a hiking we will go.”


Tom Osborne authored “Coastal Sage: Peter Douglas and the Fight to Save California’s Shore.”

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