They Saved the Marsh, Now They Want to Enhance It : Environment: Friends of Madrona Marsh in Torrance is supporting Prop. A, which would generate money for a nature center and more than 100 other similar projects.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stirred by childhood memories of life on her father's Montana farm, environmentalist Shirley Turner said, it was only natural that she pitched in 20 years ago to protect Torrance's Madrona Marsh from development.

The wetland was known as little more than a swamp back then, one that developers had hoped to wipe out in favor of a massive residential and commercial project. But after years of legal and financial wrangling, the city eventually set aside more than 40 acres as a permanent environmental habitat.

Today, marsh supporters are using the 20th anniversary of their organization, Friends of Madrona Marsh, to drum up support for a county ballot measure that would raise $540 million for more than 100 specific projects in Los Angeles County.

Known as Proposition A, the Safe Neighborhood Parks Act, the measure would designate $1.5 million to build a natural history center at Madrona Marsh. It also would provide $1.86 million toward construction of a gym, a weight room and a pool at Torrance's Charles H. Wilson Park. Another $1.28 million in discretionary funds would be set aside for Torrance park and recreation projects.

The money would be raised through property tax assessment districts. The amount, supporters claim, would come to only about $12 a year for 22 years on the average home.

In regard to other South Bay cities, the measure would earmark more than $10 million for improvements to the Hermosa Beach Pier, acquire land for jogging and open space in the Hermosa Beach greenbelt, improve and repair the Manhattan Beach Pier and Oceanographic Teaching Station, improve the Manhattan Beach Parkway Park, reconstruct the Redondo Beach Pier and Harbor, develop Moonstone Park and renovate Seaside Lagoon.

The natural history center at Madrona would include a laboratory, library, exhibit hall and meeting room.

"It's an educational facility," said Walt Wright, the city's naturalist. "You can have displays and materials that say, for example, this is where the sand comes from. You can go out on the marsh and look at the ducks that are there. But you can put up a display that would say these are where the ducks, heron, etc., are migrating from."

Wright, a former Friends of Madrona Marsh board member, has helped supervise the removal of tons of debris from the property--asphalt, unused oil pipelines and cement from former oil well operations, trash heaps containing bottles, cans, tires and more, and a steady supply of windblown paper and plastic from nearby streets.

Upkeep of the park is largely provided by the organization and other volunteers ranging from Cub Scouts to Brownies.

"Without the help of volunteers, we would not have the area in the shape that it is now," Wright said.

One such volunteer is Turner, who in 1972 joined more than 50 others to form Friends of Madrona Marsh. Over the years, the group has been involved in litigation with the city and developers over the future of the site.

In 1986, developers Ray Watt, Shurl Curci, Guilford Glazer and Santa Fe Land Improvement Co. reached an agreement to donate to the city 34.5 acres of marshlands valued at $20 million. The developers sold the city a second, 8.5-acre parcel for a below-market price of $1.5 million.

The city guaranteed that the land, most of which is bounded by Sepulveda Boulevard on the south, Plaza del Amo on the north, Madrona Avenue on the west and Maple Avenue on the east, will be set aside forever as a nature preserve.

Turner sees the marsh as an opportunity to turn the clock back to another era, when she lived on her family's farm.

"Just walking on the marsh is like walking in Montana," Turner said, as she pointed to the abundance of plant life on a recent tour of the preserve. She said she finds escape from the urban sprawl by watching sunrises at the marsh.

"We want to make it like it was before the oil companies came, and to make it as natural as possible," she said.

Madrona Marsh Nature Center Supporters of Madrona Marsh in Torrance are trying to drum up political support for a county ballot measure that would raise $1.5 million to build a natural history center on the site.

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