Commentary: Shipley a tribute to community spirit

Ten years ago, the future of Shipley Nature Center was threatened due to difficult economic times in the city of Huntington Beach. Faced with closure, a group of dedicated volunteers stepped forward to make sure that the gates of Shipley would remain open for the public to enjoy. Today, with more than 100 volunteers and more than 28,000 visitors per year, Shipley Nature Center is thriving and allowing the local population to enjoy and utilize the information and natural beauty that Shipley has to offer.

Established as a 501c(3) nonprofit in 2002, the Friends of Shipley Nature Center has been completely renovated due to the volunteer efforts of many local businesses and community volunteers. After the non-native plants had been largely removed, the gates and entry rebuilt — thanks to volunteers who specialize in ironworks and masonry — and new trails established, the shiny new gates opened to the public in 2005.

The new Shipley was updated and fresh, with donations and grants allowing the Friends to secure new equipment, tools, storage and the ability to clean the existing buildings. New displays were created to teach about the history of the area, including the pioneers who had once settled here. Those donations also helped build an amphitheater where educational programming and special events can be held. A utility yard and educational courtyard were also developed, and new restrooms were built for visitors.

When the Friends first began restoration, Shipley was overgrown with non-native plants and looked nothing like what Don Shipley, the founder and architect of the wonderful nature sanctuary, had envisioned. Dr. Shipley wanted a place where future generations could come and see, even in the middle of intense urban development, what California may have looked like 100 years ago. When Huntington Central Park was developed, 18 acres were set aside just so that his dream could become reality. Since then, thousands of visitors have walked the trails, enjoying nature and fulfilling this dream.

When the Friends of Shipley Nature Center came together, there were only 30 people at the first meeting, but it was a strong-willed group of people dedicated to keeping Shipley open and restored to its original purpose. What the first volunteers found was 18 acres of native plants being overtaken by plants that should not have been there.

The was arundo choking out the pond, passion vine destroying the trees, and palm trees where palm trees should not be. It was backbreaking work, removing the thousands of non-native plants from the surrounding area and then replanting natives in their place. Saturday after Saturday found volunteers doing this tedious work, and after a long while, they could "see the light" when Shipley could finally be considered in a state of maintenance.

Shipley Nature Center is a tribute to public/private partnerships. The Friends enjoys a formal relationship with the city of Huntington Beach through the Community Services Department, but it enjoys an informal one with the community itself through its availability and openness to the public. It is truly a tribute to citizens who care about their community.

Volunteers work tirelessly to keep the gates of Shipley open so that the community, especially our children and future generations, can come to a place of tranquillity and peace to learn about nature and their relationship to it. The center owes a big debt of gratitude and huge thanks to those tenacious volunteers, because without them, Shipley Nature Center would have closed its gates long ago and Dr. Shipley's dream would have been lost.

SHIRLEY DETTLOFF is the education chair, KAY GODDARD the vice president and AMANDA GLENN a member of the Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Beach.

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