Peters Canyon was once Canyon of the Frogs

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Camp Myford, an Irvine Co. gift to the Orange County Council Boy Scouts of America, was named for James Irvineís youngest son

Peterís Canyon Regional Park offers a well-used oasis of wilderness amid the sprawl of development in the North Tustin area.

The land was originally part of a 47,000-acre Mexican grant made to Teodosio Yorbain 1846. Yorba named his entire acquisition Rancho Lomas de Santiago (Hills of St. James), but the section that would become Peters Canyon was always known as Canon de Las Ranas (Canyon of the Frogs) because it drained into the Cienega de Las Ranas (Marsh of the Frogs), now known as Upper Newport Bay.

James Irvine purchased the rancho from Yorba in 1897 and leased the canyon land to several farmers, including James Peters who had been dry-farming barley and beans in the upper part of it since 1891. Peters built a rambling ranch house and planted a eucalyptus grove near Little Peters Lake in the lower part of the canyon.

Although the locals hunted in the canyon, it was first used for recreation when a group of men from Orange and Santa Ana leased a plot of land there from Irvine in 1899. They built a ninehole golf course and formed the Santiago Golf Club. By todayís standards, the course was primitive with greens of oil-soaked sand, not grass, and fairways of packed dirt. Golfers traveled to the club by buggy and bicycle, carrying their lunches as well as their clubs since their bright red clubhouse served no food. The group later moved to the bluffs of Upper Newport Bay, then to Newport Boulevard where they reorganized as the Santa Ana Country Club in 1923.

Irvine built two reservoirs, Upper Peters Canyon Reservoir in 1931, and lower reservoir (Little Peters Lake which is now a flood control basin) in 1940 to conserve water. The basins regulated The Irvine Co.ís draft from Santiago Reservoir and conserved runoff from the canyonís watershed. With the availability of water, agriculture including orange groves thrived in the canyon.

During World War II the U.S. Army established a training area called Camp Commander in the eucalyptus grove near Little Peters Lake. Men stationed here fought mock battles with soldiers from Camp Rathke, an Army post, two miles away in Irvine Region Park. From 1952 to 1988 the Boy Scouts maintained Camp Myford for all sorts of weekend Scouting events, including more than 20 years of Day Camp during the summer for younger Cub Scouts. A gift from The Irvine Company, the camp was named for James Irvineís youngest son, Myford Irvine.

Today a gated community, Tustin Ranch Estates, occupies the site. The Irvine Co. dedicated 354 acres of Peters Canyon to the County of Orange on March 3, 1992. Preserved as open space, Peters Canyon Regional Park abounds with coastal sage, scrub, riparian plants, freshwater marsh and grassland habitats. Willows, sycamores and black cottonwoods grow along Peters Canyon Creek. Wildlife and birds are often encountered by those who hike and ride mountain bikes or horses on the many trails.

 

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