Soaring 300 feet above Irvine


I went out to the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station this morning to test-ride the new Great Park Balloon and to check out the new visitors’ center.

The big orange balloon is the first attraction of the Orange County Great Park, and it gives riders the opportunity to soar up to 500 feet above the park to watch the progress (this morning the balloon was only going up to 300 feet because of wind—and this safety precaution really peeved the man behind us in line who was obsessively complaining about those missing 200 feet).

The helium-filled balloon is about 118 feet high and the gondola can fit about 30 passengers.  And the best thing is that the balloon rides are free (F-R-E-E) until 2008.  For more information go to:

The ticket counter for the balloon ride is inside The Great Park Visitors’ Center that houses a few chintzy exhibits on the development of the park.  All of the exhibits try to sell you on how the park is good for the community.

I was hanging out with a friend at the center that was on the airport side of the airport v.s. park debate (that I thought ended in 2002) and he reminded me how this area needed an international airport and that this base already had the runways constructed.  He also asked how often a guy like me, from Garden Grove, would be commuting this far south to visit a park.

My verdict: the balloon ride was a fun one-time attraction; the visitors’ center was a waste of money; the graphic design on all of their marketing materials was exceptional.

  3 comments for “Soaring 300 feet above Irvine

  1. Anonymous
    July 22, 2007 at 10:58 pm

    damn Irvine Hippies.

  2. July 23, 2007 at 6:17 am

    Sounds like your friend had some good points.
    How many of us drive to LAX for long or international flights? And the land at MCAS El Toro was designed to be an airport, has great freeway access, etc. Much of it is already terribly polluted, so cleanup would be required before building anything else. And last I checked South OC and North SD are still growing – so there will eventually be a need for another airport in the region.
    Too bad the NIMBYs (who built/bought their homes and businesses near an EXISTING Marine Base) blocked the most logical use for the land.
    Did your friend cut off the top of your head in the photo? OOPS!!!

  3. Andrew Davey
    July 23, 2007 at 7:55 am

    Um, no. Actually, Orange County ALREADY has an airport… It’s called JOHN WAYNE! Why do we need a second one, especially when WE’RE NOT EVEN GROWING MUCH ANYMORE?! Orange County has nearly grown completely up and out. Once Ladera Ranch and Rancho Mission Viejo are completed, there isn’t any more new land to be developed here. OTOH, the HUGE GROWTH in Southern California is happening in the Inland Empire. So why build another airport in an area that’s maxed out when all the growth (and future air passengers) is happening further inland?

    If all the pro-El Toro Airport people REALLY CARED about expanding air capacity in the greater SoCal region in a responsible way, they’d expand access to Ontario Airport. Oh yes, and if they feel like OC REALLY NEEDS another airport option, encourage folks in West and North OC to use Long Beach. Perhaps we can improve Metrolink service to Ontario, and create service to Long Beach.

    Sigh. It’s just too bad the Newport Beach NIMBYs who don’t like having John Wayne so close to them are still trying to shut it down and shove a boondoggle of a “mid-sized international airport” down South County’s throat. Whatever.

    Oh yes, and kewl pics! Thanks, Mike! That reminds me… I need to get myself on that balloon soon! 😉

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