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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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