It’s a new beginning for Shipley Nature Center

We’ve been keeping some good things about Shipley Nature Center

hidden under our hats until the time was right for an announcement.

Well, the time is right.

In June, the Orange County Conservation Corps received a $20,000

grant from the Frank and Judy Colver Fund of the Orange County

Community Fund to train an education crew of corps members to serve

as natural history interpreters at Shipley Nature Center. This crew

opens the nature center to the public from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday

through Thursday.

I developed a curriculum and began training this crew of fine

young men and women in July. We started with earth sciences and the

geologic forces of change. I think the Friends of Shipley Nature

Center wondered what this had to do with habitats and native plants,

which is their main focus, but I wanted these kids to have a firm

grounding in the natural sciences.

We studied plate tectonics, comets and asteroids, which can be

major forces of change. We looked at the effect of the giant comet

that hit the Yucatan Peninsula 65 million years ago and wiped out the

dinosaurs. We looked at evolution over geologic time, and studied the

basic groups of animals from invertebrates up through fish,

amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. We concentrated on extinct

Ice Age animals, since Shipley Nature Center has some nice displays

about extinct ancient bison, saber-toothed cats and Columbian


I introduced them to the culture of the Tongva tribe as it was

before contact with Europeans. We studied food-gathering techniques

and practiced grinding corn with an authentic metate and mano. For

transportation, the natives built two different types of canoes --

one made of tules for use in the Bolsa Chica wetlands, the other a

larger ocean-going craft suitable for paddling to Santa Catalina

Island. And we studied the clothing, musical instruments and trade

practices of the Tongva.

Finally, we looked at how development of the missions began to

affect the natural habitats of Southern California. The rancho era

saw further changes as cactus and sages were ripped out and nonnative

grasses replaced them. The farming era disrupted habitat even more,

and development sounded the death knell for most of the wildlife that

used to live here. What remains are animals that can survive in parks

and borderlands amid an urban environment.

After this grounding in the ecology of the area, the corps members

shifted gears as the Friends of Shipley took over their education.

They learned the types of habitats at Shipley and the names of the

plants and animals. They learned about issues of water conservation.

Finally, they took on the major job of operating Shipley’s new

composting center. Under the direction of composting manager Kay

Goddard, the corps members receive wood chips that would otherwise

have gone to landfills and compost them to use on the many trails at

the center.

There is a very important reason the trails need to be maintained

in pristine condition. That’s the other big change that we’ve been

keeping quiet. The Friends of Shipley have signed a memorandum of

understanding with the Orange County Department of Education Inside

the Outdoors program. Children who participate after school will have

an opportunity to learn more from the corps crew.

The only reason we’ve tried to keep this under our hats is that we

wanted to give the corps kids time to become comfortable with giving

natural history tours.

But apparently word has gotten out. The corps members have already

served dozens of adults and hundreds of school kids. They’re now

ready for the 7,500 school kids who have already registered for


This is a very exciting time for the people who have worked so

hard over the past three years to get the nature center restored and

open to the public again.

The first tour that the education crew hosted was for a brand new

group of corps members on their first day in the field. I was as

nervous as a mother hen to see how the education crew would do.

I needn’t have worried. They triple-teamed the presentation, with

one person starting the explanation of geology and fossil formation,

another jumping in to explain why there are only a few fragments of

dinosaur bones that have ever been found in Orange County -- we were

underwater during the era of dinosaurs -- and the third one wrapping

up with a description of the giant reptiles and sharks that swam in

the ocean here during that era.

When they talked about the Ice Age animals, I was nearly in tears

with pride as they reenacted hunting techniques of saber-toothed cats

killing a baby mammoth, using Shipley’s puppets to demonstrate.

They explained that a bison has horns, not antlers. Horns are

permanent while antlers fall off every winter. They even remembered

to mention that the bison’s outer horn covering is made of keratin,

the same protein that is found in fingernails and hair.

The education crew has had a month to practice its presentations

to the public, and is gaining in awareness of conservation issues

every day. Be sure to stop by if you’re available during the week and

say hello to these great kids.

* VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and

environmentalists. They can be reached at