Thursday, April 28, 2011

Community Wilderness Parks Rating: Caspers Wilderness Park

Not all community wilderness parks are created equal. All may afford city dwellers the opportunity to feel dirt beneath their heels and see a horizon filled with trees instead of cell towers but some do it better than others.  Having visited a few, I pondered a way to rate the parks on some sort of sliding scale. I wanted a system that could be applied to just about any community wilderness park so I just made this one just now. The perfect community wilderness park (CWP) scores a 10 on all factors on a “CWP Rating System™.”  It's purely subjective, based on limited personal observation and subject to revision with each blog update.

The current CWP Rating System is comprised of six factors. Each factor is rated 1 to 10, 5 being average and 10 being highest. I tend to be a bit harsh in my ratings, so a “5” is not a bad score at all.

Ease of Access: The park is easy to find, can be reached without having to use granny low or a four-wheeled drive vehicle. Extra consideration is given for those accessible by bicycle.

Human Infrastructure and Facilities: Fresh running water, flush toilets, picnic benches, BBQ stoves, campgrounds, showers, trash and recycled waste receptacles, etc. Extra points for a visitor center and actual human staff or park rangers available.

Trails: Mixed use as well as single-track hiking-only trails of varying lengths and difficulty. Trails are well marked, maintained and actually lead to someplace interesting. Extra points for loops or connecting trails that allow for a 12+ mile hike.

“Remote-ness”: Can a visitor get far enough away from highway sounds and views of anything resembling community, i.e. housing developments, or other manmade structures that are not part of the park facilities? Extra points for parks in which this can happen relatively quickly.

Natural Beauty: Are the views, trees, geology, unique terrain, wildlife, meadows, ridge lines, canyons, streams, waterfalls, ponds and lakes, beaches or other natural features just beautiful? Extra points for natural aspects that are unique or special to the area.

Bonus Points: Easily obtainable trail maps, size of park, friendly volunteers, historical significance, special community events, portions of the park are wheelchair friendly, nicely paved roads, adequate parking and other things that make the visit pleasant.

It’s important to understand that this system is not really suited for large national parks or forests, backcountry destinations or other true “wilderness areas,” but those greenbelt areas that a community sets aside for residents and visitors to get a little outdoor time. Most of the parks have a certain family-friendly quotient, but all should afford even the solitary visitor the opportunity to escape for a few hours and to think of nothing more important than returning to a trailhead before total darkness sets in.

Let’s see how one of my favorite wilderness parks scores on the CWP Rating System. The first is Caspers Wilderness Park. I’ll feature it in a “favorite trail” review soon.

Located just east of San Juan Capistrano, California, Caspers Wilderness Park is part of the Orange County park system and is considered by many visitors to be the best of its kind in the OC.

Ease of Access: 9
The park is easily reached via California Hwy 74, aka the Ortega Highway. Bicyclists are often seen on Hwy 74 though many do not venture too many miles east of the park due to the highway’s infamous notoriety for frequent motorcycle accidents.

Human Infrastructure and Facilities: 7
The park is equipped with a nice visitor’s center, flush toilets, camping spots, a ranger-staffed front gate, good parking and paved intra-park roadways but troubled with frequent running water stoppages for multiple reasons.

Trails: 8
Many trails intersect and run the length of the park providing hiking, biking and riding adventures for trail users of all ages and skill levels. Some trails include sections near the Ortega Highway which makes for a reduced outdoor experience.

Remote-ness: 7
Because of its location, it’s a simple matter to get away from highway sounds and sights. However, some of the views along the upper ridges unfortunately include small enclaves of expensive homes and ranches.

Natural Beauty: 8
Caspers scores pretty high here. The tortuous and ancient oaks, spreading sycamores, relatively abundant wild critters and sometimes interesting geology (i.e. white sandstone bluffs and alluvial plain feeder valleys) gives the park visitor healthy dose of true wildness. The park is bordered by a number of ridges providing a variety of natural settings such as soft meadows, rocky steam beds, darkly shaded canyons and bare ridgelines.

Bonus Points: 6
“Adventure Day” and a number of other activities occur at the park offering families a nice outdoor experience. The park has good facilities for horses, including pipe corrals and watering troughs. Parking is more than adequate and the volunteers here are helpful and friendly.

Total Subjective and Irrelevant CWP Rating System Score: 45 out of a maximum of 60.

Caspers is one of my favorite, nearby default wilderness areas. I fell in love with the place immediately and find myself returning many times a year.

Next time, I’ll review the West Ridge to Oak Trail Loop, a sweet trail that always pleases when visiting Caspers.

For more information please visit the sites below:

Caspers Information: OC Parks

Caspers WP Trail Map
Caspers WP Photo Set

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