Opinion: The Significance of The Walk in The Canyon

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Together We Saved Laguna Canyon – Nov. 11, 1989

By Gene Felder

Each of us who were there on that eventful day November 11, 1989 will forever remember the excitement, the exhilaration of the roaring crowd and the beauty of the moment we heard the founder of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy (LCC), Councilwoman Lida Lenny say, “Boy am I glad you are here!” The Walk from the Festival of Arts grounds to “The Tell” at Sycamore Flats where Mayor Bob Gentry led a crowd honoring Veterans being recognized and acknowledged for their contributions to preserving and saving America in WW II. 

The cry was “Save Laguna Canyon” which was threatened by the approved Irvine Company 3,200 housing tract Irvine Company development called Laguna Laurel. Much of the thanks goes to two marketing and political savvy individuals who stepped up to the plate; Harry Huggins and Charles Michael Murray. They brought forth the concept to LCC President Carolyn Wood to raise public awareness to save the canyon uniting the community. The LCC was the lead group, but co-sponsors were Laguna Greenbelt, Village Laguna, the City of Laguna Beach and the Chamber of Commerce. Harry Huggins was the Executive Director of the Walk and what a success it was bringing an estimated 10,000 protesters, and the Irvine Company to their negotiating knees. 

Harry and Charles and committee did stellar work garnering great publicity for “The Walk” obtaining Jose Feliciano radio public service announcements. Committee chairs included Richard Henrikson, Kurt Cornell, Joel Easton, Linda Eckman, Ken Kube, Camille Bertolet, Jim and Linda Rushing among others. The LCC had one sole employee Executive Director Mike Phillips, a former newspaper reporter, who made many contributions. 

The Walk changed many lives forever and helped Save the Canyon.  Of the young people singing on stage, some have gone on to careers in environmental sciences, and regional park management, including Barbara Norton and Harry Huggins. Others became environmental designer, a mountain top climber, a traveling camper of all the National Parks. 

Elementary school-age students from the Community Learning Center at Top of the World School marched together in the SAVE OUR CANYON walk in 1989. They had prepared for months for their performance of singing ‘VISION’ as part of the program in the Canyon. VISION was written by Wendy Milette, who also directed the children in their performance. Wendy, a long-time environmental activist and teacher, remains committed to inspiring young people to be stewards of the earth. Derek Ostensen and Todd Osborne are two of the singing students who have been active in environmental causes as adults. Derek in particular has been indispensable in the Proposition 12 open space lot purchases and the success of the Laguna Canyon Foundation. Jahmar Millette teaches kids about the environment as his mother Wendy does today. 

So, many people who were not there that day, now drive down Route 133 Laguna Canyon Road from the crowded interior of the OC and gasp and “ahh” over the beauty of the drive into Laguna Beach. They have many volunteers to thank who worked so very hard to Save Laguna Canyon. 

The Laguna Canyon Conservancy continues its work to protect the environment and keep Laguna Canyon small-scale and rural. The LCC is a volunteer environmental group dedicated to save Laguna Canyon and preserve it as natural. See website at www.LagunaCanyonConservancy.org to become a member or learn about past and future educational programs.

Gene has been a board member of the Laguna Canyon Conservancy for 34 years, serving as vice president in 1989.

 

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