Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Back Bay Trail

As you drive down Jamboree Blvd, just past Bristol, the road takes a gentle descending turn to the left as you travel over a bridge where the Santiago Creek meets Newport Back Bay.  A sprawling delta that connects to Newport Harbor, Back Bay covers over 140 acres of waterways containing many bird and animal species. 
Newport Back Bay-Photograph by D Ramey Logan

Formed during the Pleistocene Epoch (2 million to 11,000 years ago), the area was home to many large mammals.  Fossil remains of mammoths, giant sloths and bison have been found here. As glacial masses receded, it carved out this shallow bed that led to the ocean.  In more recent history, Gabrielino Indians lived here, hunting and fishing, until they abandoned the area during the California mission years. 

Now owned by the Irvine Company, the Newport Back Bay has undergone many changes in the past 100 years.  For a time the area was used to make salt by cutting into the bed of the bay, creating drying beds, and letting captured water evaporate, leaving behind sea salt.  But in 1969 the bay was flooded by torrential rains, and the salt works was destroyed. The ecological impact on the bay was devastating, and for several years the bay was clogged and flooded often. 

Developers wanted to create a water-skiing attraction in the lower part of the bay, but preservation-minded citizens began to rally to restore Newport Back Bay. Preservationists won the day, and a massive dredging project was begun, removing the remnants of the salt flats, and restoring the original depth and natural water flow. 

Many species that had disappeared from the area began to return, and today the Newport Back Bay and surrounding bluffs serve as an ecological preserve. 

You can visit the bay easily by taking a right off of Jamboree on East Bluff Drive, just past the bridge. Park along the street, and descend down the drive on foot... or perhaps the better option is on bicycle, as the Back Bay trail is over ten miles long, terminating behind the Hyatt Newporter Hotel at Newport Dunes. While some do travel by car, we don't recommend it because there is so much to see up close.

It is hard to imagine, many large mammals frequent back bay, including coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and even an occasional bobcat. For Marine life, several species of algae serve to attract small fish, like anchovy and mullet.  Invertebrates are also here in the form of worms and various species of moluscs, like clams, mussels, and fiddler crabs.  The list is lengthy, but none of it should be eaten, as  the runoff that makes its way to Back Bay contains toxic bacteria.  Birds abound, and the plant species have recovered nicely, not without the good effort of volunteers. 

Newport's Back Bay is one of Orange County's largest treasures. Other activities that are open to the public include kayaking, canoeing, picnicking, horseback riding, and bird watching. The trails tend to be crowded with people on the weekends. Newport Back Bay is open from 7:00 a.m. to sunset, and the Ecological Information center is open 7:00 am to 4:00 pm every day of the week except Monday.

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