In 1978, the California Department of Parks and Recreation began a feasibility study to determine the need for Chino Hill State Park (CHSP). Volunteers from around the hills began an inventory of the Park’s natural resources and even helped designed the Park’s boundaries to protect the watersheds and viewsheds by protecting the ridgelines. Several years later, Park Bond Acts supplied the first funds to acquire land for inclusion into the State Park. And thus it began, a 25 year effort of land preservation with numerous battles to protect the Park from surrounding developments and threats.
Hills For Everyone (HFE), a local non-profit, was formed to protect this natural landscape and has led the charge to ensure its success. In the early years of the CHSP’s formation, HFE volunteers operated the Park when the State couldn’t afford to and spent countless hours cleaning up the land from its cattle ranching history. Though land continued to be purchased as a part of the Park, CHSP was not official until 1986 when the California Parks and Recreation Commission declared its existence.
Through the 1980s lands continued to be acquired with other Park Bond funds. But the early 1990s brought new scientific information about the concepts of park size and species survival. Essentially, in order to allow the plants and animals to continue to exist (with adequate food, water, shelter, and mates) there needed to be enough protected land or lands linked together through corridors to allow the species to live.
For years groups like Friends of Whittier Hills based on the western side of the hills, had worked to preserve land in there in the Puente Hills as a chain of protected lands. When it became clear that CHSP and its array of natural resources were threatened due to the lack of connections to other open spaces, citizen groups from around the hills began a cohesive effort to connect the protected open spaces. This concept became widely known as the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor, a 31-mile long corridor of open spaces, not all of which are protected.
The first cohesive battle was the preservation of a permanent connection between the Santa Ana Mountains to the State Park. This was the only remaining viable connection to the Park was through the Coal Canyon. This canyon had two properties that together linked the Mountains to the CHSP. The southern parcel, owned then by the St. Clair Company had already began the process of development and had received its entitlements for 1,550 homes. HFE, state and local elected officials worked to secure funding for the acquisition of the St. Clair parcel and it became a reality when money from 12 different funding sources, totaling $40 million was used in 2000 to buy the 649 acre canyon. The northern parcel, known as the Mancha property, had also already begun the process of development, which include not only homes, but industrial and commercial buildings too. Again, State Parks and others worked to secure $13.5 million to buy this 32 acre parcel.
The preservation of Coal Canyon was significant for many reasons. It marked the first time in state history, land was purchased for preservation of a wildlife corridor. It also marked the first time in state history, Caltrans removed the on and off ramps for a wildlife corridor. Since Coal Canyon was now saved from development, other connections were essential to protect the integrity of the Wildlife Corridor. CHSP, at over 14,100 acres is the largest anchor of the hillside system, but 4,000 acres had also been preserved in the Puente Hills. Lands between the Chino Hills and the Puente Hills needed to be acquired, this land is called the Missing Middle.
Unfortunately, major threats to the CHSP still exist today a lot of which are focused at the Coal Canyon connection, including, but not limited to: the expansion of the 91 freeway, the addition of riprap along the Santa Ana River, the creation of additional railroad lines, and a highway through the State Park and the Mancha parcel connecting the 15 freeway to the 241 toll road. It is only due to the perseverance of the State Park staff, non-profit groups like Hills For Everyone, and multi-county joint powers authorities like the Wildlife Corridor Conservation Authority that the Park is what it is.
Follow this link to learn about the Puente-Chino Hills Wildlife Corridor.