December 2006 Watershed Highlight of the Month

The Santa Ana River Guide

For December 2006, we would like to celebrate the publication of The Santa Ana River Guide: From Crest to Coast—110 Miles Along Southern California’s Largest River System. Written by local stream walker, Patrick Mitchell, the Guide reveals both the wild and urban sides of the Southland’s most important river. The book relates the river’s natural and human history, geology, and current conditions and provides all the information necessary to plan an outing on or near the river. It is also a call to action for further protecting and restoring the river. The Guide sells for $15.95 and:

  • Is organized into six geographical sections corresponding to the river’s “reaches,” the book’s individual entries include an extensive description of each park and preserve, location and access information, and highlights of what to do there.
  • Includes information on dozens of hiking and biking trips and other activities along the river and in its watershed.
  • Has maps to orient readers on the river’s recreational trails.

The Santa Ana River is Southern California’s largest river system, with its headwaters high in the San Bernardino Mountains and flowing into the Pacific Ocean more than 100 miles away. Since the area was settled by Europeans in the 19th century, the river has been diverted, dammed, covered in concrete, and exploited. Only recently have residents recognized the importance of this vital natural resource.

Mitchell, 39, has assembled everything he knows about the river in "Santa Ana River Guide," a profile of its history and the variety of habitat and recreation areas that can be found along its length.

A former Earth First activist who once chained himself to a fence to protest construction of a toll road, Mitchell moved from in-your-face activism to positions at a local museum and then as a parks employee, eventually serving as a naturalist with the City of Santa Ana Parks, Recreation and Community Services Agency. But he never forgot his river, or the river's wild roots. Though encased in concrete through much of Orange County, the river still has natural stretches within the county.

These days, Mitchell is adopting a more modest form of advocacy, urging city governments, state legislators – just about anyone who will listen – that nature along the Santa Ana is worth preserving.  The book is not, however, one long argument in favor of river conservation. While he does include a chapter on the river's possible future, it is mostly a "how to" guide: how to find roads, trails, camp sites, picnic areas; how to find woodlands, wetlands or tributaries.

Copies of the Santa Ana River Guide may be ordered direct from the Wilderness Press by calling 1-800-443-7227, faxing your order to (510) 558-1696, mailing your order to Wilderness Press, 1200 Fifth St. Berkeley, CA 94710, or via the internet at

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