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Former Trailer Park Converted to Beauty Spot

December 9, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

A pelican inspects work at the new El Moro Campground in California.

The buildings, lots and landscape of the old El Morro Village trailer park near Laguna Beach, Calif., are gone, replaced by picnic tables, ramadas and a shimmering pallet of native plants.

But as the 38-acre site nears the end of its transformation into the brand-new El Moro campground – complete with the dropping of one of the ‘Rs’ – State Parks officials haven’t quite erased every remnant of the quirky, ramshackle community that once thrived there, but was closed in 2006 after residents were evicted, the Orange County Register reported.

The sites at the new El Moro Campground of Crystal Cove State Park are simple but the views of the ocean are beautiful.

The remnants peek out from a hillside, and the native plant specialists working the site can spot them easily: aloe vera, African daisies, bindweed, all non-natives planted by trailer-park residents.

“We took out palms, Brazilian pepper,” said State Parks senior environmental scientist David Pryor as he walked the site Wednesday. “We even had some cape ivy in here, almost the scariest plant I’ve seen in Southern California. It spreads pretty fast.”

The last of the non-natives will be swept away soon enough, the trailer park a memory, as one of the last coastal campgrounds ever to be built in the state park system is groomed for its grand opening – with luck, sometime in the coming summer.

The 60-space campground, along with day-use areas with trailheads into the 2,791-acre Crystal Cove State Park, is now in the midst of a $12 million makeover that includes the planting of some 18,000 native plants.

Coast live oaks, western sycamores and Mexican elderberry are being planted in the lowland areas, up higher, a variety of shrubs, including white sage, encelia and coyote bush.

Most were grown from seeds collected within the park to maintain genetic continuity, reared at a nursery in Escondido.

The idea, environmental scientist Lana Mead said, is to re-create a pre-Columbian feel: the coastal sage scrub and streamside habitat that would have been familiar to the early Native Americans who lived along the coast millennia ago, and whose artifacts still turn up.

Right now the place is noisy with trucks delivering native plants, backhoes and augurs.

“We’re digging holes, watering,” Mead said. “We’ve already got 9,000 plants out.”

Walk over a wooden bridge at the back of the campground and a short way up the trail, and the noise – including the hiss of traffic from Pacific Coast Highway – simply stops.

It’s replaced by the noise of birds, including abundant quail, and other wildlife rustling in the brush. Bobcats are known to inhabit the area, mule deer are a familiar sight.

“There’s something really special about the parks in Orange County,” said Mead, who grew up here. “It’s one of the last open spaces people can enjoy in an urban area. That makes it more important that it be protected.”

On that same section of trail, on flats that once sheltered leach pits for the trailer park residents’ waste, restored habitat has exploded.

Natives such as coastal goldenbush and giant wild rye planted on the waste sites have grown thick on the “nutrients” from pits. And water flowing down El Moro Creek to the ocean, once notorious for bacterial spikes, is now clean.

Not only the anger of the trailer park residents who were forced to leave, but even the name of the site has been fuel for argument.

“It was a great controversy,” Pryor said. “One or two Rs?”

But it turned out to be easily resolved.

“The geologic canyon name is Moro Canyon, one R,” he said. “The school (El Morro Elementary School) and the trailer park were two.”

And on that typographical note, one chapter of Orange County history closes as another is about to begin.

“In front of our eyes, this is really coming together,” Pryor said.

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