The City of Orange has within its boundaries a valuable and largely under used natural asset, Santiago Creek. The Creek is Orange County’s largest watershed and a major tributary of the Santa Ana River. It is a natural waterway over much of its length, a rarity in Southern California urban areas. It has the potential to provide a unique scenic and recreational greenway corridor within the cities of Orange and Santa Ana. A greenway with largely native trees and shrubs would provide some of the natural beauty and wildlife habitat seen in the upper reaches of the creek within the Cleveland National Forest. A system of bike and recreation trails within the greenway would connect the Santa Ana River National Recreation Trail (NRT) on the west to County-owned Santiago Oaks and Irvine Regional Parks in northeast Orange. It would link five city parks within the two cities and would provide off-road access to the existing trails in Anaheim Hills. The goal of this Vision Plan is to realize the recreational and scenic potential of Santiago Creek and its ultimate value to the Cities of Orange and Santa Ana.

The plan is the result of a partnership initiated in 1999 between the City of Orange and the National Park Service (NPS). Since that time the City and the NPS have been working with community residents and state agencies to define this plan for the creek’s future. The primary obj4ectives of the plan are to:


1. Construct a multi-purpose trail system along the creek bank connecting The Santa Ana River National Recreation Trail in Santa Ana to Santiago Oaks Regional Park in northeast Orange.
2. Create a greenway (where possible) along the creek by
restoring the creek bed and its adjacent uplands with native trees and shrubs.
3. Restore the Creek’s natural contribution to groundwater recharge by removal of concrete parking lots from the creek bed and replacing non-native plants with soft-stemmed natives.
4. Maintain or improve flood protection goals defined by county officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As was described in the forward to this document, the idea for a trail and greenway along the creek was initially proposed through local planning documents in the 1950s and 1960s. Along with these studies and plans, some progress has also been made in its actual implementation. For example, by 2008, a Class I bikeway (paved off-road bike path) existed from the west side of the 5 Freeway in Santa Ana to Tustin Street to in Orange. By 2016 (as this document is being prepared for publication) The Class I bikeway has been extended east to the Cannon Street Bridge over Santiago Creek. We now have approximately 6.5 miles of great Class I bikeway. The bike path is well used by bikers, runners and hikers as can be seen in Figure 1, a photo taken on a Saturday afternoon just east of Cambridge St. However we are short of our goal of connecting to the Santa Ana River Regional Trail in the west by approximately 1,5 miles and short of Santiago Creek Regional Park in the east by about the same distance.
Some segments of the greenway also exist, most notably in Santiago Park in Santa Ana and a segment just east of Hart Park in Orange which was planted with native trees and shrubs in 2002. Santiago Park, in particular the area east of the Santiago Avenue Bridge, provides an example of what the
Santiago Creek Greenway could look like over much of its length. The photograph in Figure 2 is a view looking east from the Santiago Avenue Bridge after one of the rains in March of 2005. The sycamores and oaks in the photo are typical southern California native riparian species. The existing bike path runs through the greenway on the north side of the creek and a footpath runs along the south side.
In addition to the existing Greenway segments, there are other scenic areas along the creek that with moderate efforts can become elements of the greenway. However there are also areas that will be a serious challenge

Figure 3 is a photo of what was in 2008 one of the most dismal looking areas along the creek. The view is looking east along the future trail route from a point just east of Tustin Street. The bike path route was blocked by a locked gate with a prominent keep-out sign. The route was crowded on its south side by an apartment complex and 200 yards east of the gate there was an unpermitted concrete parking lot in the creek bed. Just past the apartment complex there was a barren stretch of land south of the trail route. When the bike path construction was completed in 2012, the locked gate and the parking lot in the creek were both gone and the barren stretch east of the apartments was planted with approximately twenty five native trees
Returning to the more attractive areas, Figure 4 is a view of the creek in an area behind the Chapman Medical Complex. The trees in the photo are mostly native riparian species. The area is significant because it is believed to be close to the campsite of the 1769 Portola expedition. Father Juan Crespi who was a priest on the expedition included a good description of the creek and its plant species in his diary. In naming the creek he said: “We christened this grand fine and lovely spot with the name Santiago Apostol,” (Saint James the Apostle Patron Saint of the Two Spains). His complete description of the site is given in Section 4.5 of this document
Figure 5 is a photo of one of the most scenic areas on the creek, the Santiago Creek “rapids.” The “rapids” are adjacent to the Hurwitz site west of Cannon Street. The Hurwitz site is a 14.4 acre tract of privately owned land north of Santiago Canyon Road and west of Cannon Street. See sections 2.6 and 4.2 for more detail. The photo was taken from the north side of the creek looking at the desired bike path route along the south side. The bike route could proceed east under the Cannon Street Bridge which can be seen at the upper left of the photo.
Figure 6 (next page) is a view looking south from the Santiago Creek Trail near the east end of the Sully Miller site. The Sully Miller site is a 108 acre tract of privately owned land north of Santiago Canyon Road and east of Cannon Street. See sections 2.7 and 4.2 for more detail. The entrance to Santiago Oaks Regional Park is only a half mile further east. The trees in the photo include several native riparian species found within the park.
Figure 7 is a view of one of the trails within the wooded area of the park showing some of the (mostly) native trees and shrubbery.
Figure 8 is a view looking northeast from a high point in the Barham Ranch area of the park. The trail in the foreground connects to the Anaheim Hills Trail over the rise seen in the distance. A trail to Irvine Regional Park branches off to the right of the photo. Inside Santiago Oaks Regional Park the Santiago Creek Trail connects to the many trails within the park and to the trails in the Anaheim Hills north and east of the park and also connects to regional trails furthereast and south (e.g., Irvine Regional Park, the Mountains-to- Sea National Recreation Trail and Peters Canyon Trail).
Figure 9 (on page 4) is a map of the envisioned Santiago Creek Trail system and greenway from the Santa Ana River Regional Bike Path to Santiago Oaks Regional Park (and beyond). The trail alignment shown in the map connects three city parks: William O. Hart Memorial Park (Hart Park), Yorba Park and Grijalva Park, as well as the many scenic areas shown in the preceding Figures. The trail alignment links the YMCA and Grijalva Gymnasium, as well as Santiago Park (City of Santa Ana). The trail also comes quite close to one of the largest open space areas in the city, theEl Modena Open Space.
Wherever possible the trail alignment includes additional recreation trail segments (generally located on the opposite creek bank from the bike path) and additional greenway segments.
The Class 1 Bike Trail as it exists in 2016 still ends at the 5 Freeway in Santa Ana and at Cannon Street in North East Orange. Extending the bikeway to the Santa Ana River Trail in west and to Santiago Oaks in the east are the primary remaining tasks to complete the Santiago Bike Path.
The trail system described here and in more detail in the next section will provide the City of Orange with a valuable recreational asset, both in the trails themselves and in the access it provides to the existing trails in Anaheim Hills and the Santa Ana Mountains. In addition,the greenway connecting the creeks parks and existing scenic areas will make the path a valuable scenic asset.

As shown on the map in Figure 9 (page 4), just West of Hart Park Santiago Creek passes under the 22 Freeway and into the City of Santa Ana. Extending the Bike Path to the Sana Ana River will therefore be under the jurisdiction of the City of Sana Ana. Santa Ana in now in the process of updating their General Plan and with the encouragement of the SCGA and fellow organizations in Santa Ana they have added the Santiago Creek/Santa Ana River Trail connection to the Circulation Element of their General Plan.
The primary issue in extending the creek trail from the 5 Freeway to the Santa Ana River is the trail route. Continuing the Class 1 Trail along the creek bank is by far the safest option. However there is strong opposition to this from the home owners along the creek. A Class ll (on street) route is possible but it would subject trail uses to heavy rush hour traffic along Main or Broadway Streets and Santa Clara Avenue.
Closing the gap from Cannon Street to Santiago Oaks Regional Park will require construction of Class 1 Bike Path across the old Sully Miller Property (now owned by Milan Capital, a real estate investment company). Milan Capital is (again) planning a housing development on the property but may be persuaded to provide the space for the trail and greenway in their development or in the best case donate property to the County of Orange.

If you want to know more about this, please download the whole plan HERE


Santiago Creek Greenway Alliance is a 501(c)3 organization. Contributions are tax-deductible.

Please send a check made out to "Santiago Greenway Alliance" and mail it to David Piper CPA, 1500 E. Katella Ave. Suite 7, Orange, CA 92867