Village Matters

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Standing Up for the Trail

By Ann Christoph
By Ann Christoph

Ever wonder how people traveled along the coast before Coast Highway was built in 1926?  There was the old Coast Road.  William Wendt painted his well-known painting of it near Rockledge in 1916. The dirt wagon road wound its way along the coast following the ups and downs of the topography. With few bridges or culverts, canyon crossings were difficult.  Bluebird Canyon was nearly impassable at times. At Aliso Canyon the road turned inland about where Country Club Drive is now, connecting to a low bridge over the creek and then climbed the hill up to what is now Monterey Street.

There we will still find a segment of that original road just inland of the telephone company building. Now it serves as a trail connecting the South Laguna neighborhoods with the inland area of Aliso Beach Park.

When the state was building what was then called Roosevelt Highway, now Coast Highway or Highway 1, Joe Thurston, whose homestead included the area of today’s golf course and Aliso Beach, objected to their plan to build the present low bridge crossing of the creek. Still today we can see the tremendous cut they did on both sides of the creek to get the bridge that low. Thurston wanted a high bridge like those on some northerly sections of Highway 1 to avoid cutting the bluffs so severely. He sued the state and lost.  Their only concession was to build one of the few Coast Highway pedestrian overpasses connecting Thurston’s Aliso Circle property with the beach.

Artist William Wendt’s “Coast Road.” A segment still remains, ascending from the inland Aliso Creek Beach parking lot to Monterey Street.
Artist William Wendt’s “Coast Road.” A segment still remains, ascending from the inland Aliso Creek Beach parking lot to Monterey Street.

All this comes to mind as we scamper or trudge down or up that winding eroded secret- feeling trail. As we look at how landscapes have changed over time, knowing a little background we can see what has happened as a result of different opinions, battles won and lost.

Oil on canvas 16 x 24"
William Wendt’s “Coast Road Bridge” painting captures the early scene in Aliso Canyon.

The trail has been appreciated by neighbors for years, but neglected by its owners, both the county and the city.  Now a new home is planned to take access from part of the trail, which is actually still a road right of way.  The future of the trail has become a focus at last.

Neighbors want to assure that the trail retains its rustic natural character while providing the needed driveway access.  Long-term drainage problems and maintenance need to be resolved. Alarmed as the project went back to Design Review at the end of February, and seeing how construction affects the trail, neighbors organized, gathered petition signatures, and spoke at public comment at the council meetings of April 10 and 17.  In response, Community Development Director Greg Pfost and Assistant Director Jim Pechous set up a meeting with property owners, architect Jim Conrad and neighborhood representatives.  Brenda Borron, who along with Bob Cosgrove and Amir Mozafari organized the effort, is optimistic; all were listening to each other and solutions are in process.

“This has helped all of us to feel we have a little community,” she said, surprised that so many people in the area care about the trail. “That we all treasure the uniqueness of where we live, the natural plants…It’s so reassuring that that’s how everyone feels.”

“I don’t like change, but if we have to have change, how can we make it a change for the better?”

This neighborhood activism has helped to push a solution toward a better change, and the cooperation of the property owner, county and city will help to bring about an improved, but still natural trail, one that is cared for, but is still reminiscent of what the old Coast Road was like in the early 1900s.

When we are reading in this landscape the battles won and lost, we hope we will think of the trail in the win column, a tribute to the earnest process of listening and working together.


Ann Christoph is a landscape architect and former council member.

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