Brea Dam Park is part of the Fullerton Parks and Recreation. It is to the south of the dam squeezed in-between the dam and the spillway. (The dam is Army Corp of Engineers and the 220 acres of flood basin is leased by them to Fullerton for $1 a year.) The Google Earth shot to the right shows just the park part. This is the part that is watered and weeded. There’s grass, picnic tables and restrooms in the lower level next to the entrance. For hiking within the park there is newly paved road and a few easy trails, but there’s a lot of trails that are just for off-road biking. Actually Brea Dam Park is ideal for off-road biking and has great potential to be the premier off-road bike park for Orange County. Bikers can pedal up on a smooth newly paved road to a wide rest area before going down a dozen different ways. Some are very steep; and some are almost dangerous; which is why it is such great fun.
Like most trails associated with parks, they extend beyond the boundary of the park. In this webpage the trails described go across Army Corp of Engineers spillway.
The $1 a year leased land north of the dam is of course its flood basin; officially called the Brea Dam Recreation Area. Although associated with the Brea Dam Park on city parks website, on this website, there’s another webpage that describes the trails down in the Brea Dam Recreational Area.
Tiny Loop (.5 mi)
An easy place to park is the part of Brea Dam Park which can be seen from Harbor Blvd. It is a half a mile north of Hillcrest Park (Brea Blvd). There’s plenty of parking there. There’s a restroom and picnic tables on the flat grass area. In the corner of that grass area, furthest from the entrance, is a fun trail that goes up alongside the rocks of the dam. It is a steep climb that takes you to the east end of the Brea Dam. That’s the same place the road takes you to in a much shallower climb. The steep trail and the road forms a very short loop of half a mile. That road is easy to see continuing from the parking lot south and east. You can walk on the road past what looks like a 1940s style house. It is now a $75 a night hostel. Hostels are associated with young people because the accommodations are so rough and there’s several strangers to a room. The hostel was indeed a house once. It was where the dam tender and his family lived when the dam was built in 1942. It was eventually abandoned because there’s not that much activity for them in this one place. For more on the profession of dam tender and some engineering aspects of the Brea Park dam click here –> Dams and Spillways of Fullerton.
Following the road to the highest point, you will come to the dam itself; the east end of the dam where the road is, is easy to find on a map. You can walk across the crest of the dam to Fullerton Tennis Courts and from there down into the flood basin and on to the golf course. This hike is better described in the webpage Brea Dam (upstream). A better reference point than the east end of the dam itself is further down the road where the asphalt comes to an abrupt end. This reference point is important as you will see later. It is also easy to spot with Google Earth. If you have Google Earth loaded on your computer, enter the lat/long into the search window and click on maps… 33°53’26.5″N 117°55’26.5″W. Click here for information on loading and using Google Earth.
The Hike to the Spillway Flat (out and back, 1 mi)
From this reference point, off to the right you will see what looks like another dam with a large concrete flat area in front of it. This is called a spillway. Spillways are often as expensive as the dam itself because they use so much concrete. And yet they rarely go into action, often never in the history of the dam. Its only purpose is to save the dam in a super bad flood condition. Notice that the flat area has been extended several hundred feet north. Leave the reference point north along side the lovely trees all the way to where the dirt has been piled up on the north end of this flat area. Scamper up that soft dirt pile and take in the best view north into the flood basin.
____The map calls the flood basin, the “Brea Reservoir.” The Army Corp of Engineers leases this land to the city for $1 a year and on that lease this area is called “Brea Dam Recreational Area”. Civil engineers who design dams call it the “impoundment area.” That’s where the water is stored during a storm. There is also the “catchment area” from which the water is gathered. For more on the engineering aspect of our dams click on Dams and Spillways of Fullerton. The walk back to where you parked is exactly one mile. Notice in the walk back how much this flat area looks like a park. All that’s missing is the grass and people. It’s 2.5 acres of weed free flatness in the middle of nowhere.
View from the Top
From that reference point (where the asphalt ends), slightly to the left is a trail into the reservoir (flood basin). See the Lost Trail webpage for more detail on walking in this wilderness area. From the same reference point a hairpin turn to the right is a wide trail up to the highest part of the park. At the top is an abandoned radio repeater station and lots of homeless nests. The nests are often way into caves cut into the dense brush and in one place, actually forms a looping tunnel. So cool. They have been abandoned for many months because it is getting so popular up there with bikers. (Homeless can’t stand the public being near their “stuff.”) It is of course very popular for off-road bikers to start their harrowing ride down from there. For hikers, the purpose is the views available from up there. The view, caves in the brush and interesting mysteries sticking out of the dirt can’t possibly be appreciated by bikers because they are so intent on the thrill of the ride. Fortunately the paths are wide enough that bikers can go around us. But if you see or hear them coming, they would sure appreciate you stepping off the fast part of the path. Click here for more on biker/hiker etiquette.
Other Side of the Spillway (out and back, 1.2 mi)
Across the spillway are some more incredible views. At the point where the asphalt ends, walk north several hundred feet where the soft dirt was piled. Then walk to the right where there is a very long and steep climb that goes back to the south. From here on it is a bike trail, which means full of ruts, never repaired, narrow, and in places very steep. (In other words, more fun that we should be allowed to have.) The ruts actually make the climb easier because the ruts meander which gives good foot-holds. Few bikers make it to the top “on” their bike. When you get near the highest portion of the trail you will be alongside a fence which marks the beginning of the backyards of some Fullerton homes. At the highest elevation there’s a cellphone tower and some older looking shortwave antennas. (Usually antennas like that are repeaters for police and fire.) At this point, if you returned, the round trip is 1.2 miles. The trail on this side of the spillway continues quite a ways south alongside the fence. In fact it emerges on Elks Way where you can walk to Hillcrest Park. The trail is not on any map but is so well groomed it must be part of the housing development, paid for by association fees. For detail on linking Hillcrest Park and the dam, see the webpage Hillcrest Park.
Longer Out and Back (1.8 mi)
The shorter path describe above was to the top of a hill that is officially the Brea Dam Park. The longer paths mentioned above are to the east side of the spillway which is not in the official part of the park. You can do both sides of the spillway. By going first to the top of the Park, then come back to the floor of the spillway and then do the east side of the spillway to the cell tower and back, together that makes the journey a respectable, 1.8 miles.
Click on the pictures to see them as full screen.
Who in the heck extended the flat area upstream of the spillway and why?
That flat area and the reference point which is the end of the asphalt should be a premier part, the focus, of the Brea Dam Park. So who owns that newly paved road to that most valuable point?
Premier Off-Road Pike Park
The boundary on Google Maps of “Brea Dam Park” exactly marks what I think is the ideal park for off-road bikes. It is as if they –whoever determined the park boundaries– had that in mind. There’s a paved road that goes most of the way uphill. The pavement ends at a reference point. To its right there’s a wide dirt road that continues to the very top of the park where it falls away steeply on all sides. That wide dirt road up the back of the hill, I think, should best be left unpaved but annually graded to make it free of ruts. (It’s not clear why it is so wide.) The reason for clearing it is to make it safe yet fun downhill run. The landing for that speed run is very wide and safe. (The only other speed run is Nora Kuttner and it has no landing area! It is widely known among bikers how dangerous that trail is.)
From the very top there’s only two trails that go down to the level were the paved road is. There could be one or two more with maybe a few days of weed cutting and some hoeing. Otherwise I think this off-road bike park could be maintained with a whole lot less work than any grass park with people-trails. And about a hundred times the use.
Website of the best mountain bike park experience: http://bike.whistlerblackcomb.com/
Ruts and Bike Paths
One thing I’ve noticed that is a natural safety device is a tree that feel across one very steep trail. It forced them to slow down and go around the tree. I have interviewed bikers there and they like sharp turns, but there is some danger in the fluffy soil that is created in a sharp turn. They can’t steer well in powder. They don’t mind falling as long as there’s nothing sharp or hard nearby. The photos in this folder show that is the case. It is safe to fall there. There’s several pictures in the folder with the names “how trails get wider.” (Normally bike trails are narrow; narrower certainly than the ones maintained by Parks for people.) I don’t think this widening phenomenon is a problem; it’s just an observation. As to their cause; I think it is their tendency to avoid ruts and washboard effects. (Ruts caused by water gathering on the dirt above them.) What bikers do is ride along the side of the trail which is free of ruts and bumps. The bumps show up there too of course, forcing them to slide further out on the trail. The old ruts are of course not filled in, so it just looks like a giant river went through there. Weeds get pushed out of the way as the trail inches wider every month. I overheard one biker tell another that a large bush was removed to make the trail wider where there was a turn.
Future of the 2.5 acre Spillway Flat
One suggestion a mountain biker friend of mine had for the area north of the spillway is a contoured area for BMX where hills and dales are carved into the dirt of a dimension that just right for 22” bike wheels of children. I’m sure he’d be available to advise you if you write a grant to obtain that land from the Army Corp.
There’s lots of homeless nests in the park, but I think the problem is receding. I noticed all nests have be abandoned because the debris doesn’t change a bit over the course of a two or three months. I suspect the homeless recognize that it is no longer a secluded area. So if this park gets even more popular, the homeless might avoid it entirely. From what I understand they don’t mind being seen, they just don’t like anyone walking near their stuff.
Only after a major cleanup of the homeless nests in this park, should trashcan mounts be installed. It is my experience with picking up trash for exercise, it doesn’t matter where the trashcan is, just as long as I know there’s one at some identifiable place on my way; like at the top or the bottom or some noticeable place in the middle. What I’d really like are signs that say,
“next trashcan; top of hill”
“next trashcan; ½ mile”
My suggestion for the hill above Brea Dam Park is where the asphalt road ends at: 33°53’26.5″N 117°55’26.7″W The reason is that this spot –I feel– is perfect as a reference for all walking activities at this end of the flood basin, for the dam as well as the Brea Dam Park itself.
No signs are really needed in this park, except where the next trashcan is. But if you want one, my vote is to promote an underappreciated walk (I think) from the Tennis Courts to the golf course for lunch. All it needs is a sign that says:
“Take the dirt trail further into the park and follow it 1 mile to the golf course for lunch.” And
“There’s a nice picnic area a few hundred feet further along the railroad track.”
The sign should be attached to the trail courtesy triangle sign at: 33°53’37.4″N 117°55’32.4″W
There’s a blank sign that serves no function whatsoever right hereà 33 53 20.0701 -117 55 32.9498. There’s nothing to say there either. If it’s easier to move it than throw it away move it to a better spot like hereà 33°53’23.3″N 117°55’30.4″W at the top of the dam to tell folks that yes you can walk across the dam.