About The Park

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Over the centuries, many people have made use of the open spaces and plentiful water, plant and animal resources of the Chino Hills. Prior to European contact, the Gabrielino Indians, who lived along the Santa Ana River basin, set up temporary camps for gathering acorns, elderberries, walnuts and other seeds.

After the Spanish founded Mission San Gabriel in 1771, the Chino Hills were used extensively for grazing by mission cattle. During the Mexican Republic era, the hills were used as spillover grazing from such surrounding Mexican ranchos as Santa Ana del Chino and La Sierra Yorba. After Mexico ceded California to the United States in 1848, the land was still used primarily for grazing.

Private land acquisition began in the 1870s and continued into the 1890s. In 1948, the 1,720-acre Rolling M Ranch was established and the land leased to nearby landowners for cattle grazing. Some late nineteenth and early twentieth century oil exploration and mining activity also took place in the northwestern section of what is now the park. A ranch house, barn, and several windmills and watering troughs serve as reminders of the cattle ranching days.

In 1977, the California legislature passed a resolution directing California State Parks to conduct a study on acquiring Chino Hills land for park purposes. A local citizen group, Hills for Everyone, worked closely with California State Parks and the legislature to create the park with an initial acquisition of 2,237 acres. In 1984, the State Park and Recreation Commission officially declared the area a unit of the State Park System. Since that date, numerous land acquisitions from various private landowners have expanded the park to its present acreage.

For a history of Gilman Peak please find this article written by one of our volunteers and its acompanying photos: A Chapter In Gilman Peak History 

Diversity is perhaps the most important feature of the vegetation found within Chino Hills State Park. In fact, Chino Hills has several different kinds of vegetation in each of its major habitats.

In the park’s creek zones, cattail stands provide habitat for a variety of wildlife, among them red-winged blackbirds. Along seasonal and year-round creeks, the willow and sycamore woodlands have understories of wild rose, stinging nettle and mule fat. These riparian areas provide cover and food for numerous animals and nesting birds. Many of these nesting birds are migratory species that come to the streamside habitats from Central and South America each spring to raise their young. Southern California black walnut trees join coast live oaks to form woodlands above the creeks, often on north facing slopes. These walnut woodlands are another important and rare plant community preserved in the park. Only a few thousand acres of this California habitat still exist, with about one thousand acres in preserves. Several hundred acres are protected at Chino Hills State Park.

The Tecate cypress is another special type of plant community found only in a few places in the United States. Several Tecate cypresses are found in Coal Canyon, adjacent to the larger ecological reserve managed by the California Department of Fish and Game.

Several different scrub and chaparral communities along the hills and slopes above the canyon floors include coastal sage scrub, California sagebrush, California buckwheat and purple sage, as well as a mixed chaparral community dominated by laurel sumac and toyon. Many California wildlife species depend on these scrub and chaparral communities for survival. Because these communities are disappearing as urban development continues, they form an increasingly important part of the biological resources protected in the park.

Most of the grassland in the park is non-native annual European grasses that were introduced here during the early ranching years. However, grassland species native to California, such as purple needle grass and giant rye can be found among the annuals. An active grassland restoration program in the park is restoring native grassland to its more natural and dominant state.

Because of its great variety of habitats and microclimates, Chino Hills State Park is an ideal location for observing many wildlife species native to southern California. Red-tailed hawks and turkey vultures soar above. Coyotes, deer, bobcats and other mammals are often seen in the woodlands, scrub and grasslands. Visitors with good ears and sharp eyes will enjoy the many songbird species seen and heard foraging and raising young in the trees and shrubs.

More than 200 species of birds and mammals, numerous reptiles and amphibians, and thousands of types of insects and other invertebrates live in the park. Some of these animals, including least bell’s vireo, the California gnatcatcher and the coastal cactus wren, are considered rare, threatened or endangered. The local diversity of native plants and animals found here in the Southern California basin is greater than in any other area of comparable size in the United States.

Ranging from 430 feet to 1,781 feet in elevation, the park straddles the north end of the Santa Ana Mountains and the southeast portion of the Puente-Chino Hills, which together form the northern end of the Peninsular Ranges in Southern California. This formation interrupts the generally flat Los Angeles Basin with a variety of rolling hills, mountains and canyons on its south and east sides. The hills are a result of uplift and folding along the Whittier and Chino faults.

The Puente-Chino Hills are made up of sedimentary rocks of the Puente Formation, deposited from five to fifteen million years ago. Associated with this formation are petroleum resources that have been explored and exploited in the Los Angeles region since the late 1800s. Fine clay soils are found in these formations, as well as a few areas of alluvial deposits that wash down from the hills and mountains during winter rains.

For humans relaxing or recreating in the park, Chino Hills is an island of tranquillity in a sea of urbanization. For the plants and animals in the park, Chino Hills is a link to other natural areas. Southern California is so heavily urbanized that it is impossible to preserve the huge tracts of land needed to ensure species diversity. However, by providing a major biological link between islands of open space, Chino Hills effectively makes habitats larger.

Water Canyon Natural Preserve and Coal Canyon make up a biological corridor that allows wide-ranging species like bobcats, mountain lions and a variety of rare species to avoid becoming trapped in isolated patches of habitat. When small patches of wilderness are cut off from other open space areas, many of the species present at the time of isolation will inevitably disappear. Biological corridors help to maintain healthy populations of plants and animals by allowing for genetic exchange, species migration and repopulating after a catastrophe such as a fire.

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