Crystal Cove Conservancy finishes out 2022 with about $200,000 raised in end-of-year campaign

Patrons dine with an ocean view at the Beachcomber Cafe at Crystal Cove.
Patrons dine with an ocean view at the Beachcomber Cafe at Crystal Cove State Beach.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

For their final fundraising push at the end of 2022, the Crystal Cove Conservancy emerged with close to $200,000 — an approximately 15% increase over the previous year’s campaign and its most successful to date.

Funds will be put toward the Conservancy’s STEM programs geared toward K-12 students, which president and chief executive Kate Wheeler described as unique, as it provides hands-on opportunities for students to do real ecological restoration and project monitoring in Crystal Cove alongside scientists.

Those programs have been developed over the last decade, and demand for them has continued to grow, Wheeler said.

Prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the conservancy was seeing turnouts of close to 6,000 students from 60 or so schools annually. The nonprofit had to pivot in 2020 to be online only and were able to serve about 7,000 students across nine states who were learning remotely.

“Our aim as we returned to in-person programming was to see our in-person numbers return to pre-COVID levels and to maintain the distance-learning option. We were delighted to have been able to exceed that aim with 10,000 students learning with us [in 2022],” Wheeler said. “What’s most important to know about all of these numbers is our programs have always been primarily focused on students and schools that have the least access to opportunities like this. Almost three-quarters of our students come from under-resourced Title 1 schools.”

The conservancy’s Marine Protected Area Science Cruise, operated in coordination with Newport Landing Sportfishing, sees the greatest reach with students, but Wheeler said every new program is met with demand. Over the next year, the Crystal Cove Conservancy plans on collaborating with the UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering for a kindergarten-to-college engineering program.

“Over the next year, we’ll work together with our colleagues at UCI to develop curriculum goals, learning outcomes, and research partnerships, plus testing and piloting a program for at least one grade level,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said it’s unclear exactly which aspect of the nonprofit’s work appealed most to donors to the 2022 campaign, but that it could have been anything from the five-year fundraising plan the conservancy developed in 2020 to the beach cottage restoration project.

The seaside cottages were constructed between the 1920s and the 1940s. Efforts to restore the last 17 cottages located on the north part of the beach began in 2018. Infrastructure work, which includes bluff stabilization, utility installation and construction of a boardwalk and service path, are now nearly complete.

“We anticipate opening the first of the North Beach cottages in the first half of 2023, and continuing construction in groups of three to five cottages at a time until all 17 structures are complete in 2026,” Wheeler said of the oft in-demand properties. “These 17 cottages will create 22 new lower-cost coastal accommodations, doubling our inventory of overnight rentals.”

Revenue generated by these rentals will go toward the conservancy’s education programs, including the new coastal engineering program that will be using one of the properties.

Additionally, part of the boost in fundraising may come from a growing awareness from donors about the effects of climate change and sea rise, Wheeler said.

“Because of these issues, they want to support organizations that are working to mitigate those impacts by cultivating the interest and capacity of young people to manage and hopefully, reverse those impacts in the future,” Wheeler said. “Just in the last two years Crystal Cove State Park has been impacted by changing weather, wildfire, drought and oil spills — our supporters see it and want to help.”

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