On my way back from shopping in Brea, I drove a half-mile east on Associated Road, down Rolling Hills Drive, and saw someone stepping over a chain attached to a wooden fence into what looked like a heavily wooded area. Next to the fence, there was a sign for park hours. I found out later that this was Gilman Park.
Returning to Rolling Hills Drive a few days later, I followed the same wooden fence I saw before, and stepped over the chain with my camera in hand. It was here that I saw some of the tallest sycamore and eucalyptus trees in Fullerton. The tall mix of trees concealed a vast valley of green below. Despite the extreme drought that we find ourselves in, the grass, trees and vegetation in the park seemed very healthy.
I followed a shaded downhill dirt path that eventually led to a large green field. The trail looked as if it had been hardly used. Overgrown grass surrounded both sides of the trail. In the distance, I could faintly see the tops of homes in the neighboring suburb. Near the bottom, the path split two ways—one leading to an abandoned parking lot, and the other leading toward the large field of grass. The parking lot looked as if it hadn’t been used in years, and a rusted metal gate blocked any way for cars to enter from the cul-de-sac at the end of Treeview Place. There was a brown sign by the lot that announced the name of the park. It said that the park and parking lots are closed from sunset to 7am and that all dogs must be on a leash; “No running of dogs at large.”
In direct contrast, the bright green field was wide and very open with sycamores, eucalyptuses, and other trees providing numerous areas of shade. The valley of grass that made up most of the park seemed like a good place for a picnic.
Gilman Park was one of the quietest parks I’d ever visited in Fullerton. The sounds of birds and running water from the creek carried into the air. The creek flowed out of a grate from one end of the park to the other. The waterway divided the grassy meadow from the isolated parking lot. Stone barriers crossed the stream, separating areas of water, acting as filters, and creating small waterfalls. Lilly pads and algae could also be found in the stream, which was absolutely beautiful and made for a tranquil atmosphere. However, there were pieces of trash, such as a plastic shopping bag, that had made their way into the area.
Following the water, I found a rustic wooden bridge, one of four in the park, that allowed for passage from one side of the creek to the other. Crossing the stream, I spotted two ducks swimming around in the water searching for food. Moving on, I picked up a large stick to carry around with me because I had previously noticed signs that said, “Coyote Sightings in Park.”
Leaving the valley behind, I hiked up another dirt path that was so rarely used that it was hard to tell it was even a path. The trail led to an upper area of Gilman Park that provided views of the valley and creek below. Here, the lampposts, which probably turned on at night, looked old, rusted, and out of place. An entrance to the nearby neighborhood could be found in this upper part of the park. Navigating my way down from the top of the hill was particularly tricky as the fallen leaves made sections of the ground slippery. But I managed to get down to the bottom without tripping and falling.
Back at home, I researched information about Gilman Park, and found that it has a rich history. Opening in 1978, the 13.7-acre park was named after Richard Gilman who founded the first commercial Valencia orange grove in California, according to the City of Fullerton Parks and Recreation Department webpage. From re-reading the Mid-June 2015 issue of The Observer, I learned that the western end of the park was originally part of the Gilman family home in 1906. A plaque of Richard Gilman’s accomplishments can be found on the CSUF campus. The complete history of Gilman, his family, as well as the park, is available at the Local History Room within the Fullerton Public Library. Gilman and Hillcrest Park are the most well documented of all the parks in Fullerton.
Prior to 1979, the trees were small and few, and there were a lot of bike paths with one hill that was so sharp that some locals at the time dubbed the place, “Suicide Park.” This in turn inspired the park architects to build two concrete slides to make the hills safer. One slide even went through a tunnel. They were built by the City and intended for safe use by kids. However, one or two teenage cyclists who remembered the park’s reputation as “suicide park” decided to use the slide as a bike path, making the City vulnerable to lawsuits. For the most part, people used the slides safely. There’s even Super Eight film footage on YouTube of the slide, zip line, tree house, and traditional play equipment that used to exist at this park. According to a Los Angeles Times article written in December 1992 by Willson Cummer, the Fullerton City Council voted to immediately remove the 110-foot concrete slide, with many members of the public speaking in favor of saving the custom-built slide. In fact, during the hearings, more than 20 neighbors spoke for three hours about the slide. Gilman Park was a popular park until the City Council decided to remove all the equipment.
Today, the park is popular among people who live in the neighborhood, especially dog-walkers, but individuals living outside the neighborhood are barely aware that the park exists. It’s a good place to watch birds, hike amongst the trees, photograph nature, and observe a running stream of water with various wildlife. This is definitely a park for exploring and finding your way around as quite a few of the pathways are unclear and overgrown. Gilman Park is located between E. Rolling Hills Drive and Hartford Avenue at the border of Fullerton and Placentia.
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