This blog post is by no means official and carries absolutely no legal weight, but is compiled from the signs throughout the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and a conversation regarding the rules with Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve staff.
(From a sign at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve):
So the rules at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve flow from the reason it was created: To protect a valued wetland habitat and to protect the animals and plants that find a home here, migrate here for the fall or winter, or stop over on their migration to some other location. Therefore, you will find that all the rules support that principle. Following the rules is a serious matter because violation of these principles can results in fines and imprisonment. The rules are based on federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Game wardens do patrol Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve and do cite people breaking the rules. Don't be one of them. Follow all posted laws, regulations, and rules. The Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve was not created as a recreational area or playground, but for the preservation of habitat, animals, and plants. Your activities there must be compatible with the purpose for which it was created.
Here are some of the rules for Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve that are posted at the reserve:
You Are Welcome to:
Walk or hike on all designated trails.
Fish in designated areas.
[Per Amigos de Bolsa Chica that is "the area next to the bridge on Warner Avenue."]
You may not:
Leave the trail surface. Stay on the trail.
Walk your dog. Dogs disturb wildlife, habitat, and draw attention of predators such as coyotes.
Operate any bicycle or motorized vehicle.
Launch or operate a boat or floating device.
Feed the wildlife.
Disturb birds or nests or eggs thereof, or any form of plant or animal life.
Collect any specimens, except by permit.
Release any fish or animal, including domestic species.
Swim, wade, dive, or use any diving equipment.
Start or maintain any fire, light fireworks, or other explosive or incendiary device.
Note: Game wardens do patrol Bolsa Chica and do cite people for violating the rules. Don't be one of them.
The following questions are answered based on the rules, common sense, and considering the primary purpose of the reserve. For the definitive answer to questions about Bolsa Chica ask one of the organizations in the links section or the Game Warden.
Questions and my answers on what you can do at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve:
May I bring my children to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve?
Not only are your children welcome, but there are special programs for children. See the Amigos de Bolsa Chica Tour Bolsa Chica Wetlands Page for more information about special tours for children. The Bolsa Chica Conservancy has a Student Research Program for high school students. Children will also enjoy The Bolsa Chica Wetlands Interpretive Center at 3842 Warner Avenue at the corner of Pacific Coast Highway and Warner. Children of all ages will enjoy visiting the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. It is a beautiful place. It is important to teach children about nature and preserving it. However, remember that this is a reserve and not a park. This is not a place to play, but to see and learn about nature. Children do not have the awareness or maturity to know how to behave in an ecological reserve, and so you must teach them. Stay with your children and do not allow them to run off the trails, throw rocks, or otherwise disturb the wildlife and plants. Spend time sharing this experience with them. Read the rules with them as you see the signs and explain them to your children. Point out wildlife and plants. Learn together from the signs that tell you about the reserve. Ask your children questions and comment on what they are seeing. "What kind of bird do you think this is?" "That is a big bird." "Why do you think that bird went under the water?" Go to the center on Warner to teach them more about the plants and animals at the preserve. Check out the links and information below regarding the wetlands and mesa and about guided tours of the reserve. Remember this is a wildlife reserve and there are wild animals here such as coyotes that may attack small children who are unattended by adults.
May I jog in Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve?
Jogging can be great exercise, and jogging in a beautiful place near the ocean even better. I have not seen a sign against jogging in the reserve. You should follow the guiding principle on the sign above. Be sensitive to the plant and animal community and other visitors. Jog only on designated trails. If you see a bird near the trail, slow down and remember you are in their home. Give other visitors the right of way. Be especially careful of children, the elderly, and the disabled.
In deciding whether to jog across the footbridge consider that:
1) Jogging causes more wear and tear on the bridge than walking due to the much heavier impact caused by jogging.
2) Wildlife is closer and more likely to be startled by the faster movement and thud of your feet on the bridge especially during migration and nesting.
3) And lastly, there are often bird watchers, photographers, visitors, and families with small children on the footbridge. Your jogging is disruptive to those other visitors.
Sensitivity to the reserve and to its visitors dictate that it is best to always walk across the bridge.
Remember Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve was not created primarily for physical exercise and your jogging must at all times be compatible with the primary reason the preserve was created. The US Fish and Wildlife Service bans jogging entirely in some National Wildlife Refuges because of its effect on wildlife. Be careful in Spring and Summer when birds are nesting. Some shorebirds like Killdeer nest in the gravel by the edges of the path. Do not disturb them. Be considerate, and don't let the way you conduct yourself cause jogging to become an issue at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.
May I photograph wildlife?
Photography can help the public appreciate the reserve and its wildlife. It is a deeply satisfying activity for many. Signs invite the public to take wildlife photographs. Photography at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve is allowed as long as it does not interfere with wildlife or other visitors. Remember to be sensitive to the animals and the plants when you are out photographing wildlife. I cannot tell you how many photographers I have seen with their big telephoto lenses behind fences with clearly posted signs to keep out and also photographers standing way off trail to get closer to the wildlife. I even saw a man with his foot and leg in a large plant trying to get a pictures of a nicely posed bird. His telephoto lens easily would have allowed him to stay on the trail. That same day, I saw another man with a high power telephoto lens off the trail who had tramped down into sensitive habitat to take pictures in another location. This is insensitive and should not be done. These men probably could have been fined for their little off-road adventures, and were lucky the game warden didn't walk by on patrol at that moment. They were damaging habitat, and in one case way too close to the wildlife. They were risking hefty fines. If you are going to photograph wildlife, be sensitive. Keep your distance, and don't harass or frighten your subjects, and don't damage their habitat. Stay on the trails and designated areas. Read the Wildlife Photographers Code of Ethics. Also consider donating some of your photographs to the reserve for educational and fund-raising projects. Giving back feels great.
May I bird watch?
Yes, but again with sensitivity for the habitat and animals there. Stay on the trails and out of the plants. Do not become a nuisance to the wildlife, harass a bird, or frighten a bird by getting too close. Do not flush the birds. Do not go behind fences that are meant to keep people out. Respect other visitors by making way for them--especially on the foot bridge where it can get crowded at times. Do not make bird sounds near nesting birds. Do not trespass on private property. Check out the Birding Code of Ethics from the American Birding Association.
May I ride my Bike up on the observation hill at north end of the loop trail?
No, you cannot. It is clearly posted on the paths leading up to the hill and on the hill that you cannot. (See the sign above.) Yet, the other day I saw two bicyclists on the hill standing in front of the signs prohibiting bicycles while enjoying the view clearly in violation of the reserve rules. Bicycles are not allowed in the reserve. There are signs up all over the reserve stating that bicycles are not allowed.
May I ride my bike in the Reserve on the path parallel to Pacific Coast Highway?
I once spoke with a woman who was riding her bike on the Reserve path because she was concerned that riding on the bike path along PCH was dangerous. You will notice how badly eroded this path is. The frequent bike riding of those who want to ride on PCH, but do not feel it is safe to ride there probably has contributed to the erosion. The erosion has most likely caused thousands of dollars of damage. You are free to ride on designated bike paths were you do feel safe anywhere in the county. You do not have to ride your bike either in violation of the law or in an unsafe place as if you have no other choices. That simply is not true. Find a safe, legal bike path where you feel comfortable. Here are some great resources for bike paths:
Orange County Bikeways Map
Can I ride my bike on the trails on either side of the Wintersburg Channel?
Although some people chance it, the answer is a definite no. It is illegal to take your bicycle into the reserve at any location--including along the Wintersburg Channel. You can be cited for doing this. I checked this out personally with staff at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, and it is definitely against the law.
May I bring food to the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve?
I haven't seen any rules against it, but I wouldn't recommend full meals. Picnicking is not allowed. This is not a community park. There are no places to eat your lunch at the reserve and very few trash cans. As with many nature areas, you pack it in, you pack it out. You take your trash with you. Eating fast food there endangers the environment. It is so easy for papers and cups to blow away into the preserve. Recently I saw a Lays Potato Chip bag, numerous cups, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, and a shoe floating in the water, and a soda can in the middle of some pickleweed. Consider taking snack foods and plan to take the trash and any left over food out with you. Do not trust small children with food with wrappers or plastic bags that can easily blow away. Best idea--eat before you come or after you leave. Give your children healthy, unwrapped snacks. Like little bites of cheese or apple slice that you are holding. Be ready to pick up anything that you drop, and pack your trash out of the reserve when you go.
I see some trash in the wetlands off of the trail. Should go off the trail into the wetlands and pick it up so I can throw it out?
Unless you are in a clean up crew that has been instructed to do so, no. Do not leave the trail. You could damage the wetlands. If it is something you think might be dangerous, let the game warden or someone at the Interpretive Center on Warner know about the trash.
Can I use the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve lot to park if I am going to the beach?
No. It is parking for the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve only. Remember, Game Wardens patrol this area. Notice the sign above. It is one of two signs at the entrance to the PCH parking lot. They are pretty serious about it. It may be free parking for those who are walking in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, but it could be a very expensive parking place for beach goers. I wouldn't recommend it. Once you walk out of the reserve, you are not allowed to park there.
Should I Confront People who are breaking the rules at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve?
I have on occasion done this with varying results. One day I saw a group of young people who were in the parking lot and getting into their surfing gear with their boards on the car. I reminded them that parking was for the Reserve only. They loaded their gear up into the car and left immediately with no disrespect. Another day I saw a pleasant young woman with her family riding riding bikes. She was not riding at the moment. I confronted her very politely about her and her family's bike riding in the Reserve as she watched them ride. She was very angry about it. You never know which person is merely uninformed about the laws, and which is going to be irritable, argumentative and even assaultive. You really risk a situation developing that can be very unpleasant and even dangerous when confronting people you do not know. Some people may listen to you, but if they do not respect the law, they most likely will not respect your authority as a citizen. I would suggest instead that you call in the violation to the Department of Fish and Game at (858) 467-4201. If you go to the Reserve often, put the number in your cell phone and call it in from the Reserve as you are walking. Let them know the description of the person(s) and what they are doing. Let them handle it. If you decide to confront, do it in a respectful, friendly non-threatening manner and be prepared that things can possibly get ugly. Never confront people if you have young children with you.
Can we skate or use a scooter on the foot bridge?
No. As with the rest of the reserve, there is pedestrian traffic only on the foot bridge. Such activities on the bridge are dangerous. In addition, skates and scooters cause unnecessary wear and tear to the bridge, and the noise is disruptive to wildlife and other visitors. Children should keep the wheels of skate shoes retracted while at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. Or better yet, don't wear them to the reserve.
May I feed the ducks or other birds at Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve?
No, you may not. Feeding wildlife is against the law and unwise for many reasons. You may be feeding them stale or moldy food. Food that you would not eat and is not good for them either. Even if it is not moldy, if excess food lays around it would become so. Most of what we feed ducks in a park is not good for them. Birds and animals know how to find good food themselves and there is plenty of good, natural food in the reserve for the animals who live there. Besides birds, Bolsa Chica has other wildlife like coyotes, skunks, opossums, rodents, and other animals that would be attracted by food thrown around by for other wildlife. This is how people and wildlife get hurt. Please, do not feed the wildlife.
May I walk my dog at the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve?
In general no, but there is a very limited area in which dogs on a leash are allowed. Dogs are allowed on the trails outside the Brightwater Development. It is accessed by turning south on Bolsa Chica, passing Warner and parking on one of the residential streets near the reserve. You walk straight down Bolsa Chica, and it turns in to the trail. There are bag dispensers so that you can take a little plastic bag to pick up and remove your dog's poop. One dispenser is at the beginning of the trial and one is at about the mid-way point on the trail. There are no trash cans.
But dogs are not allowed in the reserve proper because they can frighten wildlife and destroy habitat. If you leave the area by the glass wall and walk into the reserve, you are breaking the law. Only service animals with proper identification are allowed. Others can be cited by game wardens for walking dogs leashed or unleashed into the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. This includes the trail from the mesa down by the Wintersburg Channel. I double-checked with staff at the reserve and it is illegal to bring your dog into the reserve even down the path by the Wintersburg Channel. There is a lot of wildlife in the Channel and the pond area that can be disturbed by dogs. There are wild animals in the reserve (coyotes, for example) that might also be a risk for your dog. There are plenty of nearby parks. Walk your dog in an area that is safe for both the your dog and the wildlife. Having your dog in Bolsa Chica will result in fines from the Fish and Game Department. If you have your dog off leash, that can result in further fines. For example, the fine in Huntington Beach for having your dog off leash in any public place including parks other than dog parks is $250.00. (HB Municipal Code is 13.48.025 )
May I bring my pet to Bolsa Chica?
No pets of any kind should be brought to Bolsa Chica. I would have thought that this was self-evident, but the other day I saw a man holding a cat on a leash in his arms on the footbridge. He and the cat looked out at the birds. The cat's white-tipped tail twitched as he or she watched the birds. But this is a wildlife sanctuary and no domestic animals are allowed. I love cats dearly and have two. However, cats are predators and should not under any circumstance be brought to Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve. No domestic ducks, hamsters, guinea pigs, rats, etc. should be brought or released at the Reserve. This is a fragile ecosystem and domestic animals would create all kinds of serious problems for the wild animals here. Please leave your pets at home.
Can I fish at Bolsa Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve?
According to Amigos de Bolsa Chica you may fish at "the area next to the bridge on Warner Avenue." You need a valid fishing license to do so. All other areas of the reserve are closed to fishing and you will be cited by the Game Warden if you fish there.
May I or my children throw rocks into the water or skip stones on the water?
No, you may not. There are many water birds in the area and animals that can be hurt or frightened by throwing stones. In addition, people can also be hit. Leave the stones on the ground.
"This unique estuary is one of the last remaining coastal wetlands in Southern California and hosts hundreds of resident and migratory bird species, plants, and animals. Please use the reserve with extra sensitive care for this endangered habitat. Please enjoy your visit."
Links About Bolsa Chica
Bolsa Chica Conservancy
In their own words, "The Bolsa Chica Conservancy is a non-profit, non-political organization established to ensure the preservation, restoration, and enhancement of the Bolsa Chica Wetlands in Huntington Beach, CA."
hbcool.com: Spotlight on the Bolsa Chica Wetlands Interpretive Center
Review of the interpretive center. Includes photos and a video about the center.
Bolsa Chica Land Trust
The Bolsa Chica Land Trust leads a guided walking tour of the Bolsa Chica wetlands and mesas on the third Sunday of each month. The tour begins at 10:00AM and lasts 2 hours. Meet at the Reserve parking lot by Pacific Coast Highway.
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