Growth on the horizon for Conservancy

On Friday, students from a Los Angeles school toured the grounds of the Bolsa Chica Conservancy in Huntington Beach and hiked through the mesa. The day before, 80 children from Stanford Elementary in Garden Grove visited the interpretive center. That same day the facility had to turn away a future request to host 80 more children because it was already full.

Visitor numbers have increased tenfold during her years at the Conservancy, according to Executive Director Grace Adams. She books tours months in advance for schools and business groups.

The 1,440-square-foot interpretive center is located in two trailers near Warner Avenue and Pacific Coast Highway. The center, with its sea life tanks and various educational posters, teaches students and visitors about the fauna and flora in the Bolsa Chica Reserve.

Administrators said they hope to grow the venue to 6,000-plus square feet by building at Harriett Wieder Regional Park on Seapoint Avenue.

"When I first started here in 2003, we probably had 3,000 to 5,000 people come through the center a year," Adams said. "Last year, we served just under 30,000 people."

The interpretive center can only fit about 40 people at a time before getting too crowded, but Adams hopes a new building would alleviate that problem and bring more people from Los Angeles and Orange counties.

In 2009, the Conservancy entered a long-term lease with the owners of the park, Orange County Parks, to use 5 acres of the property to build a new interpretive center, Adams said.

Since then, the wetlands group has thrown fundraisers; upcoming gala will take place on June 1 at the Quiksilver Headquarters on Graham Street in Huntington Beach.

Layouts and renderings illustrate a center that blends with its surroundings, with plenty of landscaping integrated into the building.

The new facility is estimated to cost around $6 million to $8 million., but it's going to take some time to get the funds to begin construction, Adams said.

"It's a continuing process that we're doing right now," she said about fundraising. "Our focus is to continue to provide education programs that are integrated and aligned with California state standards."

Education has been Adams' main focus at the Conservancy.

"Next week, we have a group of about 140 kids coming to the center," she said. "We had to turn away a request for 80 kids on Thursday because we're already booked."

Though there are five paid employees, including herself, and a plethora of volunteers that help give tours, the Conservancy still is understaffed, Adams said.

The group had 3,100 volunteers in 2012, Adams said. This year 2,000 volunteers have already signed up and she expects that number to grow.

Dr. William Morris, a ninth-grade English teacher at the Elizabeth Learning Center in Cudahy, brought his students to the Conservancy's interpretive center on Friday and gave his students an opportunity to blend writing with science, he said.

"It gives them a good introduction into environmental science and because I'm teaching English, it also gives them a way to express what they've seen in a structured, yet creative way," he said.

Morris said the center is a little small, but gives his inner-city students insight they don't get every day.

"They get to go outside and see animals, but they can't touch anything," he said. "Inside the interpretive center, they're able to interact, sometimes hands-on, with the organism they can see outside. It allows them to appreciate, on a personal level, the environment they're striving to protect."

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