Why is the Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve Closed?

Most of the Robert Ward Preserve is closed to the public even though the City of Fullerton has owned the site for more than 30 years.

The City of Fullerton acquired the 72-acre Robert E. Ward Nature Preserve in 1983. It was closed to the public from day 1. The City did not intend to open the park until after the development of West Coyote Hills.

Deals were made with Chevron-Pacific Coast Homes to allow them to use the City’s property for required gnatcatcher and habitat mitigation as a result of developing West Coyote Hills. In exchange, Chevron would pay for the cost of trail improvements and other amenities at the Preserve.

In 2007, about half of the Preserve was opened for public access due to a sort of fluke. Bike, equestrian and pedestrian use of the adjacent Nora Kuttner Trail had increased to the point of being hazardous.  The City added a couple of entrances to the south fence of the Preserve, cleared a path that paralleled the Nora Kuttner Trail to divert equestrian and pedestrian traffic.

The other half of the Preserve (hash-marked portion of the figure) remained fenced off along with Chevron property and closed to the public. It’s been so long, even City Council and Commission members were not aware when asked.

Open Coyote Hills is a group that supports the development of West Coyote Hills as a tradeoff for Chevron-PCH opening Ward Preserve. They are not to be confused with the Friends of Coyote Hills who support saving all 510-acres of West Coyote Hills for a park and preserve independent of the oil company’s strings-attached financial support.

Regardless of the different viewpoints on Coyote Hills, why should Ward Preserve, the City’s – our property – remain closed if there is public funding available to open it with no strings attached? At the February 21, 2017 Fullerton City Council meeting, even a representative of Open Coyote Hills stated that opening Ward is a separate issue from the Chevron agreement.

The Friends of Coyote Hills support Assembly Bill 510 and Senate Bills 714 authored by Assemblywoman Quirk-Silva and Senator Newman. These legislations promise to set aside $250,000 along with park conservancy assistance to begin opening Ward Preserve as early 2018.

This is a historic positive step forward for parks for our community, no matter how you feel about the development of West Coyote Hills. Let’s hope we can all finally stand on the same side of the fence to open Ward Preserve.

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