Orange County Great Park & The Balloon

At first I didn’t know what to think of the giant orange balloon that kept rising and falling out over the growing mass of detritus that piles higher every day as the Great Park Demo Teams munch and crunch their way through the old military structures that dot the El Toro Marine base… I kept wondering how to frame the image in my mind… was this some terrible and wacky first-step towards carnival-like attractions that were headed our way? Was it some terrible PR campaign gone awry? A giant orange floating above piles of rubble? Where was the sanitization committee? The Irvine Company I know would never let a project go down like this… This was like getting a tour of the Emerald City and seeing Oz in his undershirt midway through a shave… But, I knew this wasn’t a mistake… there is far too much riding on the Great Park to make mistakes…
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No, I thought, the balloon has got to be something else… a continuous event to get people engaged in the place, in the hope of a place… I know, I know… you’re thinking “hope of a place” is the corniest thing you’ve heard in recent weeks, but hope is what I’m holding out for the Park… something grand, something sublime smack dab in the middle of the fabrication of suburbia… something formed with natural edges… a bit shaggy at the hem, if you will…
Anyway, I had a free moment the other day when I was out driving with my daughter… the day was perfect… huge billowy clouds traveling across a midday sky… a cool breeze coming up Laguna Canyon… you know – the perfect OC day… the kind that makes you slip into a waking daydream… I flipped a u-turn and headed back to the entrance off of Sand Canyon… After passing through the unmarked entrance, I followed the signs guiding me to the balloon… not that you need much help – there’s an enormous orange globe hovering only slightly in the distance… you’ll get there…
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As I drove in, I remembered biking out to the Base when I was a kid… taking Irvine Center Drive out to Sand Canyon and hanging a left… stopping at Knowlwoods for a lemonade, my money stuffed into a sock… there was nothing out there then… just farms, fields and a lonely road heading towards the base…
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As we pulled in my daughter was getting more and more stoked – “We’re gonna ride in that big balloon, Daddy?! Yes!!” She’s an adventurer…
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We parked, hopped out and made our way across the lot… There was a beautiful little hangar that was behind a fence… the patina on the roof spoke volumes about the place… baked under the sun, once home to servicemen and women who would’ve laughed out loud if you’d told them there would be a giant hot air balloon in their parking spaces.
We followed the fencing to the temporary structure that serves as the check-in for the ride… i picked up the pace as I noticed that we weren’t the only ones who thought this was a dreamy day to ride the balloon. The staff were handing out free tickets with numbers on them “You’re about an hour away from riding, is that going to be ok?” one attendant asked me… I knew right then that we couldn’t swing it… my daughter is too young and the wait would kill ME, not her… “Oh, really? Bummers! We’ll just kick around a bit and check the place out; thanks anyway!”
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We walked around the room for a bit and took it in… there is a sense of exuberance here… I loved the idea of the balloon rising up over the beginnings of the Park… the riders were smiling and taking pictures, just simply enjoying the day… this was a brilliant stroke, I thought… get people to see the underbelly of the project… get them to experience it and be able to recall it years from now and see themselves in the creation process… I loved it… kudos to the whoever came up with the balloon idea and kudos to the people who pitched it and pulled it off…
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While we didn’t get to ride the balloon that day, it was enough for me to get out there, remember what the place was like twenty years ago, see what it has become today and to be able to picture what’s coming… I think it’s going to be an amazing place…
The LA Times wrote a good article about the recycling efforts being done on the former base here. Check it out.
This is the Orange County Great Park’s official website: http://www.ocgp.org/
There is a growing “Great Park Conservancy” that you can support and join to help shape the future of the Park; their site is here: http://www.orangecountygreatpark.org

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