One of my favorite places to go when I am home, is the Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve. the locals call it, the Back Bay. Located just north of the Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach, CA and extending inland, this estuary and lagoon is a bird and nature preserve. It has miles of mostly paved trails for bikers, hikers, horseback riders and everything in between. These two entities make up a most unique symbiotic relationship of man and nature.
The Back Bay is Over 100 Acres
The Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve comprise over 1000 acres of protected open space. Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve is made up of the bluffs surrounding the Bay and surrounds the Ecological Reserve which totals approximately 135 acres. Residential homes line the tops of most of the bluffs make this one of the most unique nature reserves so close to human population and civilization!
First-time visitors would be wise to begin their visit at the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center. It is an educational facility and wonderful introduction, through exhibits and interactive displays, to the Back Bay’s history, inhabitants and importance to wildlife and the environment.
Back in the days of the Spanish missionaries in the 1800s, California had many estuaries and coastal wetlands. Sadly, these precious tidal areas were decimated over the years due to increased population and land development. In the 1960’s a large commercial development plan was in the works to turn the Back Bay into a large marina facility along with residential waterfront homes.
Local citizens fought back and won in the courts to prevent these plans from becoming a reality. Assistance from Friends of Newport Bay educated citizens through nature tours describing the ecological importance of the Back Bay. By the mid 1970’s less than 10% of the original coastal wetlands remained in Southern California, but through these above-mentioned efforts, the Upper Bay became an Ecological Reserve.
The Most Pristine Estuary in California
Additional acreage was added in 1982 and in 1990 the county acquired another 140 acres to create what is known as today’s Upper Newport Bay Nature Preserve. The Nature Preserve and Ecological Reserve combined include about 1 ½ square miles of open water, mudflat, salt-marsh, freshwater marsh, riparian and upland habitat. The Back Bay is considered one of the state’s most pristine estuaries remaining today.
When I’m in the Back Bay, I am transported away from the crazy traffic, cell phone interruptions, and unending to do lists. It is a peaceful, time slowing, restorative zone. Whether walking the dog, snapping photos or just observing the beautiful plant and wildlife and listening to the birds, it is heartening to have such a place so close to home.
Kayaks, SUPS and other self-propelled watercraft are allowed on the estuary which provides a wonderful up close view of the bird population. Guided kayak tours are provided every weekend by the Newport Bay Conservancy.
The Preserve is home to almost 200 species of birds. Several endangered species make this special place their home including the endangered Ridgway’s Rail and California Least Tern. The Back Bay is one of the top birding sites in the country, making it a mecca for birders from all over the world. Birds migrating from Canada and Alaska use the Bay as their rest stop or winter home and up to 30,000 birds can be seen on any day during the winter months.
I am not a serious birder, but on my last visit I saw a young family of egrets, a Blue Heron, ducks, flocks of seagulls, Western Sandpipers, geese, Pelicans and American Widgeons to name a few! The Preserve has over the marsh platforms for up close observation of the marsh birds as well as some inland trails in addition to the paved trail which hugs the shoreline of the estuary.
Along with the large bird population, the Preserve is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including coyotes, bobcats, raccoons and many common rodents. Mostly observed in the early morning hours or dusk, it is not uncommon to spot their tracks during the day.
Even on a crowded day the park doesn’t seem like it and visitors are respectful of each other and the wildlife inhabitants, making it an enjoyable outing no matter what the population size. Having such a refuge nestled in the middle of our bustling community is a precious gift indeed. Open everyday from 7:00AM to sunset with free admission, this is truly a wonderful place to enjoy year-round.
For more information: http://www.ocparks.com/parks/newport/