I was delighted to speak this weekend to the Cultural and Natural History Museum and Botanical Gardens Workshop in Irvine. This is what our City and our Great Park need now to fulfill the Great Park promise.
While I am proud of all that we’ve recently accomplished at the Great Park – from a new 12,000-seat live music amphitheatre to the new ice skating facility to a new 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium and numerous other sports fields and facilities in the first phase of 194-acre Great Park Sports Park – the time has come to focus on creating what should be the real jewel of the Great Park: The Cultural Terrace.
The Cultural Terrace is a 223-acre portion of Orange County Great Park, envisioned as including a variety of culturally oriented amenities, such as gardens, art galleries, and museums.
I have long been a strong advocate for botanical gardens and museums in the Great Park’s Cultural Terrace.
Every survey we’ve done has shown that gardens are among amenities that people most want in the Great Park.
I agree with the Great Park Garden Coalition that “We need places where children can experience nature and explore, where all can find refuge from the ever-increasing urban density and traffic, where people of all ages and abilities can experience beautiful outdoor spaces. All great urban parks have great garden spaces: Golden Gate Park, Central Park, Balboa Park.”
I also agree with what Joyce Mann wrote in the Voice of OC: “Gardens are an inclusive, a-political opportunity to bring community together for generations. They are a public benefit that becomes a lasting legacy. Besides being beautiful to look at, education is fundamental to the mission of botanical gardens. Through them, we have an opportunity to teach students of all ages about developing environmental awareness and to learn about plant science, gardening and the ecology of our local forests, rivers and wetlands. Botanical gardens become a living plant museum that will inform visitors about the importance and often-irreplaceable value of plants to the wellbeing of humans and to the earth’s fragile ecosystems. Isn’t that the very definition of a legacy?”
The Great Park Botanical Gardens would also benefit the monarch butterfly, a beautiful species that is undergoing significant challenges and stress in our area. In the past decade, the monarch butterfly population has plummeted due to habitat loss and poisonous insecticides. The Great Park Botanic Gardens would be the ideal site to become a future Monarch Waystation. Monarch Waystations are essentially road stops on the Monarchs’ migration path which are stocked with their favorite foods and places to rest. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to have such a road stop for monarch butterflies right in our own backyard?
The Great Park should also include a world-class natural history museum.
Orange County is the only county in Southern California that does not have a Natural History Museum.
The County has millions of fossils, and thousands of artifacts, in storage and they are not available to the public. This rich history of fossils and artifacts, perhaps one of the most important fossil-bearing areas in North America, if not the world, needs to be curated and displayed. Additionally, the stories and history of the Juaneno/Acjachemen and Gabrielino/Tongva — our County’s indigenous people — needs to be told!
In fact, Orange County is already home to a fabulous collection of fossils and artifacts in the Dr. John D. Cooper Archaeological and Paleontological Center, now located in several warehouses in Santa Ana.
The rocks of Orange County contain the fossilized remains of plants and animals from every major time period since the Jurassic – over 180 million years of prehistory! At this point, only a small fraction of the collection has been inventoried – about 20,000 specimens out of an estimated 3,000,000 or more from over 1,000 localities. Notable collections include: Eocene terrestrial mammals; late Oligocene-early Miocene terrestrial mammals; and Miocene-Pliocene marine mammals.
The Cooper Center’s archaeological holdings range in age from at least 12,000 years ago until historic times, including materials from all areas and environmental zones throughout the County including the coast, major and minor rivers, and foothill zones. Sites from these various areas include, but are not limited to, villages, fishing, milling activities associated with acorn and hard seed processing, and stone tool manufacture. Some of the artifact types recovered from these sites include cogstones, metates and manos, mortars and pestles, shell beads, hammerstones, projectile points, scrapers, incised stone and pottery sherds. Historical artifacts from the last century include glass bottles and toys. The artifacts held by the Cooper Center are the most extensive collection of Orange County history and prehistory anywhere and they provide archaeologists with a comprehensive view of what life was like in Orange County.
Unfortunately, this fabulous collection is not now open to the public. Although a county ordinance and federal preservation laws require that fossils, mostly uncovered by construction, be saved and kept in the county they were found, for the “benefit and inspiration of the public”. our county’s rich store of fossils and artifacts cannot now be displayed, and are warehoused out of sight of the public. This collection ought to be open to all in a magnificent museum – a new Orange County Natural History Museum in the Great Park.
You can positively impact the next phase of development by the Great Park Cultural Terrace by becoming involved in the grass-roots organizations that are working toward a Great Park botanical garden and a natural history museum:
You can also help by signing this petition to urge the creation of a natural history museum in the Great Park.