In the Pipeline: To Bolsa Chica, with love

This week we're talking historic milestones.

First of all, Valentine's Day marks the 15th anniversary of the major state acquisition in Bolsa Chica, which tripled the size of the state ecological reserve. And last month was the 20th anniversary of the Bolsa Chica mural being created (at 5811 McFadden Ave.). And the Amigos de Bolsa Chica was officially incorporated in 1976, 36 years ago. So I thought I'd first catch up with some of the founding members involved with the rescuing of Bolsa Chica.

Shirley Dettloff told me that she didn't think when she began this journey that most of her adult life would be spent in saving and then seeing the restoration of Bolsa Chica. She said they all spent endless hours lobbying elected officials to do the right thing, educating the public to the importance of wetlands, providing educational programs and never, ever forgetting how important it was to save this invaluable resource.

Laws, through the Clean Water Act, the state's Coastal Act and many other federal and state laws, slowly started to protect wetlands.

"Many Amigos who started at the very beginning have lived through these changes and were a part of making these monumental protections," Dettloff said. "Now, every time I drive past the Bolsa Chica, I see something that I felt might be impossible in my lifetime, the restoration of one of the largest wetlands in California, a tribute to the hard work and dedication of those Amigos who had a dream and then worked to make it reality."

I asked Margaret Carlberg about some her finest memories involving Bolsa Chica. She described in wonderful detail how, at 5 a.m. on Aug. 24, 2006, standing on the PCH bridge, she watched the steam shovels remove the sand bar and let the Pacific Ocean flow into the full tidal basin for the first time in 107 years.

She was filled with amazement and awe at what the planning team and engineers had created in the nine years since the 1997 Valentine's Day state purchase of 880 acres of Bolsa Chica wetlands.

"At that moment," she said, "a sense of real pride swept through me, as I realized that for more than 35 years I had played an active role in helping this to happen."

Thanks to these efforts, we now have 1,314 protected acres in the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

Margaret's husband, David Carlberg, told me about what he feels the greatest remaining challenge is in regards to protecting the wetlands. He described how Bolsa Chica sees tens of thousands of visitors each year, including school children, members of tours or just families and individuals. The state, though, has little money to keep up with the demands of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve.

"Trails erode from foot traffic and rain runoff, interpretive signs deteriorate or become out of date, trash piles up, plants die, the inlet becomes blocked with silt, the public needs restrooms, and more," he said. "Out of pride for the wetlands, the three nonprofit Bolsa Chica organizations, the Amigos de Bolsa Chica, the Bolsa Chica Conservancy and the Bolsa Chica Land Trust, have willingly taken it upon themselves to assume most of these challenges both financially and with volunteer labor. It's unlikely this situation will improve soon."

It's something to think about as we pay great respects and thanks to these legendary activists. May their fine examples inspire the rest of us to get involved and pitch in wherever and however needed.

Next in historic milestones, the Huntington Beach Historic Resources Board has just released a new brochure, "A Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Huntington Beach."

Board member Gloria Alvarez told me that the guide is available for free at the Central Library, City Hall and at the Marketing and Visitors Bureau. It's a fun piece that tracks 27 downtown locations, including former sites, present historic structures and lots of lore and trivia. Alvarez, whose family history in Huntington Beach dates back to 1919, added that the guide is as much for locals as it is for tourists, and I couldn't agree more.

I think often we tend to overlook history in our own backyard, and this new guide is a fun and easy way to spend a couple of hours exploring and learning.

On a similar local history note, Mary Urashima has started a terrific "Historic Wintersburg" blog to focus on historical information, stories about Wintersburg and support for the general effort of preservation. (Wintersburg was the important agricultural community once located here in Huntington Beach.) Visit historicwintersburg.blogspot.com.

The last of the historic milestones for this column is a personal one. My wife and I just celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary, and given how much her support helps facilitate this column, I wanted to publicly acknowledge that here.

A recommendation, too: Jean and I celebrated at a restaurant called Rock'n Fish in Laguna Beach and it was wonderful. We've enjoyed seafood restaurants all over the country, and this one blends many regional cuisines into one casual, comfortable, reasonably priced place.

I'm not a restaurant critic (this paper has a couple of the best) but I did want to make you aware of what we found to be just a wonderful little escape down the coast.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at chris@chrisepting.com.

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