A few years ago, for a previous column, I wrote about Fullerton Parks. There was one just north of Parks Junior High School that I recently found out I hadn’t fully explored. From the street, a wooden sign simply reads “Tree Park”, although its official name is West Coyote Hills Tree Park. At the time I thought it was a small drought resistant landscaping area that was well maintained by the City of Fullerton. However, a month ago I revisited the park, hoping to photograph some trees for a graduate assignment. At this point I descended a dirt slope from the upper part of the park and found a large lower part of the park that was definitely not visible from the street.
According to the City of Fullerton website, West Coyote Hills Tree Park opened in 1979. Spanning approximately 11 acres, the park overlooks a series of suburban neighborhoods on nearby hills. Located two blocks north of Rosecrans on Parks Road, the outdoor space is crossed by many hidden hiking trails. Most of the park is invisible as it slopes down from the main road into a pool. With its mature shade trees, the park provides a pleasant environment for picnics and relaxing walks for local neighborhood residents.
In the part of the park visible from the street, there are paved sidewalks that maneuver around a series of drought-tolerant plants and excellent landscaping. Three benches offer a view of the surrounding hills. Trees growing on the hillside below frame a sweeping view of northern Orange County. When I visited the park, there was a trail past the benches that was blocked with caution tape from the City of Fullerton Landscape Division. The trail was closed because part of the trunks of an oak tree had been uprooted, knocked over and blocking access to the basin from this trail. [Editor’s note: According to Parks and Rec Commissioner Jensen Hallstrom, that blocked off “trail” is actually an illegal bike trail, and not an official trail]. It is important to note that the park is named Tree Park because of the large number of trees between the upper area and the basin below.
There are two ways to get down to the basin. Visitors can take different paths that start at the far left of the upper part of the park. One is steeper than the other and up a hill. The other path is wide, steep at first, but gradually gets easier. This is one of the first trails you see in the upper part of the park. It’s an unpaved dirt road down a hill with cacti on it. Between this trail and the steeper one are narrow bike paths that go between the trees and look fun to ride. All trails lead to the same place – a large open area filled with trees, patches of grass, a very dry little stream with late spring wildflowers blooming nearby.
I chose to take the steeper route. There were a few cyclists climbing a dirt slope where a posted white warning sign read, “Caution – steep slope ahead; Bicycles prohibited; Use the lower trail. The sign was put up to deter cyclists from riding on this trail. I waited for the cyclists to pass and walked in the same direction, looking out over the park and admiring how well maintained the terrain was.
The dirt road meandered along the edge of the hill, which overlooked a shady grove with a variety of different trees. The trees I saw were very healthy and green, probably from the last rain in early April. The trail was at a high elevation with a low ceiling covered in trees and I could observe nearby communities on the hillside. The path followed a fence, made a turn and continued following fences separating the backyards of the houses from the park. At the end of the curve was another white warning sign and on this part of the trail there was a steep incline to a sidewalk on Coyote Hills Drive. The hills in this park almost look like cliffs as they are very steep.
During my hike, I spotted a brown cottontail rabbit and several birds, including a blue jay. I also saw a bushy tailed squirrel and a lizard, which was frozen for a long time on a tree. In the pond were purple, white and yellow wildflowers blooming in a grassy, neatly trimmed meadow adjacent to the sidewalk along Coyote Hills Drive, where another entrance to the park was located. At this entry point, there were signs explaining that all motorized vehicles are not allowed inside the grounds. I followed the relatively flat paths of the basin until I reached the wide path that led back to the upper part of the property. I found it to be a surprisingly calming wilderness area in the middle of a bustling suburb. Tree Park and surrounding parking lots are closed from sunset to 7am.