I am proud of all that we’ve recently accomplished at the Great Park — a new 80,000 square-foot ice arena, a 1200-seat Great Park Championship Baseball Stadium and new additional baseball and softball fields, a 5,000-seat Championship Soccer Stadium, a 2.5 mile nature corridor, plus an agreement with Wild Rivers to build a new water park — the time has come to focus on creating what should be the real jewel of the Great Park: The Cultural Terrace.
To me, the Great Park Cultural Terrace needs a natural history museum, showcasing the natural history of our area.
In fact, while Orange County is the only county in Southern California that does not have a natural history museum, 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.
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.
Importantly, the stories and history of the Juaneno/Acjachemen and Gabrielino/Tongva — our County’s indigenous people — needs to be told!
I recently had the opportunity to tour the Cooper Center for a second time, this time with our new Irvine City Manager John Russo and Assistant City Manager Marianna Marysheva.
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 organization that is working toward a natural history museum in the Great Park:
You can contact the Irvine City Council/Great Park Board and tell them you want a natural history museum in the Great Park.
You can also help by signing a petition to urge the creation of a natural history museum in the Great Park.