Brea Dam Park (south and east of the dam)

Outline of Brea Dam Park.

Brea Dam Park has the potential of being the most popular park in Fullerton. It is located south of the dam squeezed in-between the dam and the spillway and yet accessible from Harbor Blvd. The Google Earth picture to the right shows the park surrounded by a white line. Most of the park is a hill with a lower area that is flat with lawn, picnic tables and restrooms. The hill is remarkably steep which is ideal for off-road biking. There are shallow trails for walking within the park but most of the trails created by bikers are too steep for walkers. (Trails in other parks which are created by bikers are also suitable for walkers.) The Brea Dam Park has a 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. And those are not the ones people want to walk up or down on. The trails for walking lead out of the park; not so much in it.
___Like most trails associated with parks, they extend beyond the boundary of the park. One of the trails described in this webpage goes on the other side of the spillway. (The concrete rectangle in the picture to the right.) Another trail describe here goes down into the flood basin (out of the picture at the top). Note that the park (within the white line) is not leased from the Army Corps of Engineers. It is Fullerton Parks and Recreation. The dam is Army Corps of Engineers of course. And so is the 220 acres of flood basin. But the 220 acres is leased by them to Fullerton for $1 a year. The 220 acres is officially called the Brea Dam Recreational Area. 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.
In the east side of the grass picnic area, is a fun trail that goes up toward the east end of the 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. 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. In the winter, the Hostel is closed and to keep vandals from doing damage the road mentioned above is gated in two places. That is not much of a burden, since to the left of the closed gate is a bike trail (OK for walking too) that takes you to the road near the top of the dam.
____You might be interested to know how the hostel, with that low rent, keeps out homeless. The caretaker that lives there asks for their passport or license. They look to make sure they are students and are out of state.  Unfortunately the hill the hostel is on is a gathering place for homeless. From time to time police do a sweep followed by landscaping clearing out the nests. Part of the problem is that that hill (encircled by a white line in the picture above) is not occupied enough by normal park goers. For example, the 2017 updating of Hillcrest park made it so well attended, it reduced the homeless problem from worst in the city to zero. You can participate in making it more welcome to bikers and hikers by collecting trash as you walk. You can report homeless nests by using the MyFullerton App. For information on the MyFullerton App. and some tips on picking up trash as part of your walking experience click–> here.

This is a close-up of the reference point “end of asphalt” looking north at the flattened area just waiting to be a lawn some day. The text shows how to see this reference point on Google Earth.

Reference Point: “end of asphalt”
At the road’s 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 end of asphalt reference 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 this lat/long into the search window and click on maps… 33°53’26.5″N 117°55’26.5″W.  For information click here –> on loading and using Google Earth.

The Hike to the Spillway Flat (out and back, 1 mi)
From this reference point, (end of asphalt) 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 the once in 400 year storm conditions. Notice that the flat area has been extended several hundred feet north. Walk north from the reference point 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. On the left side of this dirt pile you will be able to see Mt. Baldy.
____Civil engineers who design dams call the 220 acre recreational area 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 this dam; 234 square miles. (The Fullerton Dam in contrast has a catchment area of only 5 square miles.) For more on the engineering aspect of our dams click on–> Dams and Spillways of Fullerton. The walk back to where you parked (off of Harbor) is exactly one mile. Notice while you are up there 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.

A remarkable view that can’t be seen from any road, yet smack in the middle of Fullerton.

Described above was a walk north from the reference. Another walk from that reference point is slightly to the left of north; a trail that goes down 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 abandoned 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” and the best way to get rid of homeless is to make accessible to everyone.) 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.  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. Once again, starting at the reference, 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. (There’s steeper trails up, but those are for bikers to go down.) All the trails on the east side of the flat area are formed by bikers.  It should be noted that when the bike trails are not steep they are also suitable for walkers. You will also note that when the trails are steep, ruts actually make the climb easier because the ruts meander which gives good foot-holds. 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, where maintenance is paid for by association fees. For more detail on walk between Hillcrest Park and the dam, see the webpage–> Hillcrest Park.

Longer Out and Back (1.8 mi)
The shorter path describe above was from the Harbor entrance to the top of the hill and that path entirely contained within the Brea Dam Park. The longer path mentioned above is from the Harbor entrance to the east side of the spillway which is not in the official part of the park. From the Harbor entrance going first to the top of the Park, then come back to the reference (the floor of the spillway) and then do the east side of the spillway to the cell tower and back, 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? It’s as if there’s a conspiracy a foot working to someday make this a park accessible by a road with parking and the best off road facility.


Premier Off-Road Bike 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:

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.

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.

There’s a number of trails in the Park System which have leaning bars or benches placed where there was once a view. But alas, bushes and trees have grown up to completely block that view. The top of Brea Dam Park has a remarkable potential for a view except that bushes have grown up to block the view in the north and north east directions.  All such view spots should not be spoiled by holding trees is if they were sacred objects. Start with the trees at the top of Brea Dam Park.