30 September 2014

Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center Exhibit Opening

Tables for the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association, Hills for Everyone and other groups greeted visitors to the official opening of the state park's Discovery Center exhibit.
Last Saturday morning, the Chino Hills State Park Discovery Center officially opened its exhibit space to the public, after a lengthy delay following the center's opening some time ago.  In front of the facility were tables from California State Parks, the Chino Hills State Park Interpretive Association, and Hills for Everyone, the latter association being the driving force in preserving the land that became the park nearly 35 years ago.

Discovery Center exhibit components like this great contour map of the state park and surrounding areas give a vivid picture of the park's ecosystem, plant and animal life, recreational opportunities and overall value in a highly-developed megalopolis.
First, encouraged to check out a PowerPoint-aided lecture, a detour was taken into the multi-purpose space across the entry plaza.  California State Parks historian James Newland gave an interesting talk on the many political, economic and other issues surrounding the designation of Yosemite as the first state park in 1864, though problems with its management led to its reassignment under the fledgling national park system several decades later.

High-quality interactives abound, including microscopic views of animal life and this light-up display showing the habitat of different animal species within the park--in this case, the very broad sweep of habitat occupied by mountain lions throughout the 14,000-acre park and beyond.  This is a major reason to preserve as much of the Puente-Chino Hills complex to allow for habitat preservation for all kinds of plant and animal species.
Newland pointed out that the Republican Party took advantage of its Civil War-era dominance in California to push the project to make Yosermite a park with Congress and that identifying the connections between politicians, landowners near the site, and others were crucial to understanding how the project was pursued.

Another interesting interactive feature allows for viewing under magnification some of the insects found within the Chino Hills State Park area.
Although the creation of Yosemite as a park was not as altruistic as some interpretations have stated, Newland's main point was that "it got done" and the designation set the template for what has been called "America's best idea," that is, the creation of the national parks system (though Newland was quick to add that the 280-plus California State Parks system is pretty amazing, as well, provided it gets adequate funding.)

A microscope allows visitors to view some of the smaller inhabitants of the diverse ecosystem within the park.
Then, it was on to the exhibit, which was in a space that was not particularly large, perhaps around 700-800 square feet, but it was well laid out, provided interesting comparisons and contrasts with the park and the urban spaces around it and gave good information on the flora and fauna to be found in the 14,000-plus acre park.

A particularly important component of the exhibit was the "Living on the Urban Edge" section, discussing the interactions of the wildlands in the natural environment and the densely populated and heavily developed suburban region around it.  This area was very well thought out and executed.
Interactives abounded, including magnified examples of plant and animal life located in the park, a light-up map showing the range of habitat for certain animals, such as the mountain lion, and others showing the impact of suburbia on the natural environment.  There is plenty for kids of all ages to see and do as they learn about the park and the local environment.

Another crucial element to the displays concerned the devastating effects of wildfire, particularly with continuing suburban encroachment on wildland areas, such as within the state park.  
There was little about social or cultural history, though some mention of native Indians (though the use of the term Tongva to denote the aboriginal people is being seriously called into question as several groups of Gabrieleno Indians claim legitimacy,) but, given the fact that the park is largely based on its natural features, the focus on plant and animal life makes sense.

With all of the great material indoors, it shouldn't be forgotten that improvements have been made to the short nature trail just outside the Discovery Center, with new signage such as this that further discuss the important interrelationships between the natural and built environments.  It's easy to poke fun or dismiss the "circle of life," but the truth is that we're very closely connected to the plant and animal habitats we assume we "control."
In all, the exhibit is a thoughtfully-planned and well-executed orientation that gives visitors a good overview of a true gem amid our expanding megalopolis and it's light years advanced from the time of static exhibits that used to be (well, still can be in many cases) standard at park sites.  The folks at State Parks are to be commended for crafting something that works better with changing learning styles, interests and ways of accessing information.

Even with our drought-parched landscape, the Carbon Canyon/Soquel Canyon intersection provides a beautiful setting for the Discovery Center.  The clear blue sky and collection of cloud formations added to the scenery.

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