Connecting the Upper Newport Bay with the Newport Harbor, the Back Bay is the inland delta portion of Newport Beach. As a nature reserve, the Back Bay is home to several species of birds as well as many hiking and biking trails. The area is also heavily residential and is part of the wealthiest portion of Orange County.
History of Back Bay
The earliest human inhabitants of the area that is now known as Back Bay date back to 9,000 years ago. 2,000 years ago, the Gabrielino Indians called the area their home. Following the California mission period, however, these Native Americans mostly disappeared from the area. After that time, the area was mostly used for grazing by sheep and cattle. After being acquired by the Irvine Company in 1864, the bay was used as a salt works from the 1930s until 1969. Preservation of the area did not begin until the 1960s after the region was designated to become a water-skiing area. After a ten-year battle from concerned citizens, the area was finally designated as an ecological reserve by the State of California Department of Fish and Game. The bluffs surrounding the bay were later incorporated into the ecological reserve.
Wildlife and Recreation
Today, the Back Bay is open to the public for canoeing, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking, biking and bird watching, with the trails and other recreational areas being open from 7:00 am until sunset. The area is home to a variety of wildlife, including rodents, raccoons, bobcats, coyotes, reptiles, birds and lizards. The Upper Newport Back Bay is also home to one of the few remaining natural estuaries in Southern California. Several diverse species of plankton and algae can be found in the waters of the Upper Newport Back Bay. These plankton and algae act as a food source for more than 80 species of fish in the area.
With more than 200 bird species, the Newport Bay area is recognized as one of the top birding sites in the country. The Back Bay plays a vital role in the migration process, serving as a rest stop for birds that are migrating from Canada or Alaska. Some birds that can be spotted in the Back Bay include the light-footed clapper rail, the Belding’s Savannah sparrow, the California least tern and the least Bell’s vireo.
Plant life is also abundant in the Back Bay, all of which have adapted to the saltwater-marsh habitat of the area. Known as halophytes, these plants have adapted to grow submerged in saltwater. Some of the halophytes found in the area include sea blite, brewer’s salt brush and alkali heath. The surrounding area is also home to abundant coastal plant communities that includes grassland and coastal sage scrub.
Back Bay Attractions
In addition to the wildlife and plants, the Back Bay is home to the Newport Back Bay Science Center. Connected to the 154-mile Newport Bay watershed, the center focuses mainly on providing information about the estuarine and marine biology of the area. The Back Bay is also home to the 10.5-mile Back Bay Loop Trail, which winds around the Upper Newport Bay and the Back Bay. The trail stops at scenic locations such as the Back Bay Science Center, the County of Orange’s Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center and Upper Castaways Park.