Author: Daniel Minguez
After a three and a half mile bike ride from her home in Eagle Rock, Sasha Pokrovskaya (senior) arrives at the Audubon Center in Debs Park, East Los Angeles. She has been working with the staff at the Audubon Center to restore the degraded habitat of Debs Park, a 200 acre patch of Arroyo wilderness. Pokrovskaya assists them by logging in the GPS coordinates of invasive plant species throughout the park. Her coordinates will be placed on a Geographic information system (GIS) map, which will eventually be used by park officials and volunteers to properly remove the invasive species.
This Audubon center is one of 49 in California. The mission statement of these centers is: “to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity.” It is a mission statement that relies heavily on community participation to carry out, and Pokrovskaya is one in a line of many Oxy students and faculty that have assisted this Audubon center in its restoration work.
Nina Pine (junior) held an internship through a Values and Vocations Fellowship at the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life at the Audubon center. “I wanted my project to have an environmental focus, and so I talked to Professor Braker [Biology department] and she suggested that I intern at Audubon,” Pine said. Some of her time was spent preparing for the summer camps offered to community children by the center. All of the center’s programs are free to the public except the camps, but scholarships are offered to low-income families whose children want to attend.
Crystal Carrera (junior) and the three other interns, two from Pasadena City College and the fourth a graduate of Franklin High School in Highland Park, worked during the camp sessions. Gabriella Casteneda, a “teacher naturalist” at the Audubon center, explains that the interns helped with the development and implementation of activities at summer camp.
The first session, for children from the ages of six to 10, spent two weeks studying the animals and plants that inhabit the park. The second session of camp, for children from the ages of 9 to 12, designed to teach children about the natural and cultural history of the park.
The goal of both camp sessions was to stimulate the children’s interest, as well as the interest of their families, in nature. While the Audubon center wants children and families to be more involved in Debs Park, they also want the environmentalism and ecology taught there to spread to local communities.
All other programs that are run by the Audubon Center are free of cost. The center, and all the other Audubon chapters in California and beyond, are non-profit. They operate entirely on donations and fundraisers. Those who donate to the center automatically become members of the Audubon Society, the benefits of which include a bi-annual newsletter regarding the Audubon Society’s work a a subscription to Audubon magazine. Membership costs $20.
Oxy professors, as well as students, have been involved with the Audubon center. Professor Adrian Hightower of the Physics Department ran a study with his class that investigated the benefits of connecting the Audubon center to the power grid. The center currently runs entirely on energy produced on-site by solar panels. While Professor Hightower’s class determined it would be beneficial to the Center to connect with the grid, the Center has decided against it, and plans to install a device that produces energy through the combustion of propane gas that will be used in the event that their solar-powered system cannot meet their needs.
The Audubon center is certainly a product of community collaboration. Jeff Chapman, the interim director of the Audubon center said “we had parents and other stake holders participate in our strategic planning process. We’re trying to get parents into the park and feeling comfortable in a natural place.” Chapman and his staff get the word out at the Center mostly through local schools but also inform community groups and churches about opportunities to get involved with nature at Debs Park.
Students who find themselves on a day hike in Debs Park may help with the implementation of the Audubon’s restoration plan. This includes collecting samples and in some cases transplanting some of the vegetation. “It is an opportunity for them to learn about ecology,” Casteneda said.
The Audubon Center has diversified its offerings in recent years. The center drew the attention of the Los Angeles Times “for its cutting edge approach to connecting the Latino community with the local natural world” according to the Audubon Center’s website. This “cutting edge” approach includes a bilingual Web site and educational materials such as brochures, and guided hikes in English and Spanish. The diversification comes naturally as the Center attempts to draw members from its surrounding community which consists of predominantly low income, Spanish speaking families.
A visit to the nearby Audubon Center promises a unique natural experience amongst the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. The lobby itself contains guides on how your home gardening practices can protect California’s ecosystem, as well as bike maps and other informative literature on an eco-friendly life style. On the way to pick up these brochures be prepared to encounter “Fluffy” the California Gopher snake who is “typical of what you might find in the park” according to the Office Manager Rosa Delgado. Fluffy was given to the center by a school and is quite used to being handled.
A variety of pamphlets as well as the “teacher naturalists” on staff are available to educate visitors about the habitat and the wildlife within the park. These facets of the Audubon center are designed not only to be a positive force for the environment, but a positive community resource, allowing people to connect in a positive way with the wilderness right in Los Angeles.
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