There are some 300 acres of coastal wetlands tucked in between the 405, Jamboree and Newport’s Back Bay. There are 12 miles of trails, some 200 species of birds and a collection of quaint and historic buildings on the grounds. But the wetlands aren’t here just for our enjoyment: they’re a crucial part of the Irvine Ranch Water District’s (IRWD) water conservation and treatment system.
The runoff from San Diego Creek, which drains much of the city, arrives in the ponds and marshes where it sits and seeps amid the plants as nature intended, until some 70 percent of the nitrogen is removed, making it much cleaner and safer when it enters the Back Bay.
Even if you’re not much of a bird-watcher or hiker, the charm of the historic restored ranch houses and buildings on the site make it worth a visit. One of the first historical refurbishment projects was an old ranch windmill, which now sits at the entrance to the Michelson Water Recycling Plant. IRWD also restored and relocated three historic farm homes that were built on the Irvine Ranch in the early 1900s.
IRWD provides the Audubon House facility to the local Sea and Sage chapter of the National Audubon Society, an organization dedicated to teaching about birds, wildlife and conservation. The building is like a mini-museum of taxidermy, exhibits, and a great little bookstore and shop.
Another charmingly restored building is called the Duck Club. While the Audubon House served as the old bunkhouse for the two hunting clubs that operated at the San Joaquin Marsh from the 1940s until 1988, the Duck Club was used as a gathering place for the hunters, according to the IRWD website.
Today, the entire area is a true community resource, with guided nature hikes and birding expeditions at the marsh and sanctuary, while nonprofits and IRWD customers can reserve certain of the buildings for events and gatherings.