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April 2018
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Conservancy charts short- and long-term courses

In 2011, the Conservancy embarked on what President and CEO Ann Muscat calls “one of the most ambitious projects in our 40-year history.” Imagine Catalina: A Vision for the Future, is the organization’s 20-year master plan completed in November. The resulting planning document is described by Muscat as “an exciting vision and blueprint of options for us to move forward to serve the Island and its residents and visitors for decades to come.”

With Imagine Catalina, the challenge was “to look into the future and create a plan of programs and infrastructure improvements that will enable us to realize our conservation, education and recreation mission over the long term,” Muscat said.

The plan was completed in partnership with the architect and community design team of William McDonough + Partners (McDonough is author of the groundbreaking book on sustainable design, Cradle to Cradle) and the landscape architecture firm of Nelson Byrd Woltz.

Eagles Nest Lodge -- This artist’s rendering
envisions the reconstructed version of the
lodge out near the Middle Ranch complex.

Envisioned Gallery The gallery of artifacts at Eagles Nest Lodge would include many
items from Catalina’s glorious past.
To kick off planning, the Conservancy held three community meetngs that included City of Avalon officials, private businesses, citizens, other non-profits and off-Island partners. The resulting plan looks at the future for sites including the Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden, the Nature Center at Avalon Canyon, and the Conservancy’s Middle Ranch complex. It also addresses camping on Conservancy land. As part of the process, the Conservancy also looked at immediate improvements it could implement to service visitors at Two Harbors and Airport in the Sky.

Muscat said, “We are extremely pleased with the quality of thinking and ideas that have come out of this process,” noting, too, that at this stage, longer-term aspects of the document are “conceptual, could change, and will most certainly be refined over the years to come.” 

Projects slated to begin, continue, or to be completed in 2012 include the following: The Conservancy will continue to work with regulatory agencies on the realignment of the road to Ben Weston Beach. “We were disappointed to hear that another study is necessary in order to continue to move our permit request forward,” said Mel Dinkel, the Conservancy’s chief operating officer, adding that the new study will cost approximately $36,000. “We are evaluating this request and comments from the agency to determine next steps.”

On a positive note, this month, architects will begin to draw up detailed plans for Eagle’s Nest Lodge which will be dismantled and reconstructed “as early as October, depending on permitting,” said Natalie Hazard, the Conservancy’s capital projects manager. The rebuilt lodge, which promises to be an exciting destination for visitors, was made possible in part by funds the Catalina community raised during two Hoe Down events, and from the California Cultural and Historic Endowment, as well as the Hagenah and Shreiner families.

In the spring, with support from Jim and Joyce Brown, the Cotton Family Foundation, Capital Group and Epson, the Conservancy will open a new Mobile Nature Center at Two Harbors. Staffed by naturalists, the outpost will provide information to visitors about the Island’s unique plants and animals and active conservation programs, as well as provide fun, interactive learning activities for children and children at heart.

Airport in the Sky, a main point of entry to the Island, which welcomes about 7,000 flights each year, will get a facelift as part of Imagine Catalina, in part, courtesy of the Rusack family. The historic hangar will be repainted and re-signed, and upgrades made to the terminal building. In addition, the Conservancy will invest more than $300,000 in improvements to the runway, and will continue to develop its new Aero Club, which now nears 500 pilot members.

Looking Ahead

“We know from surveying done by the Chamber and others that visitors who are aware of the broad slate of activities on the Island are likely to come back more often and stay longer,” noted Muscat. “The Conservancy is excited about the many ideas put forth in the new Master Plan that will help attract visitors and enrich their stay.” Muscat stressed that exploration of the ideas is still “in its earliest stages,” and that they will need to be thoroughly explored with potential partners. One idea set forth by the McDonough team would involve a potential partnership between the Conservancy, the City of Avalon, the Catalina Island Museum and the Santa Catalina Island Company through which a “Green Ribbon” could be developed and implemented. This new attraction is envisioned to stretch from the Cabrillo Mole through town and up Avalon Canyon to the garden. The Green Ribbon could include exhibits, fine art, folk art, native plantings, stories about Catalina’s natural and cultural history and more that would be “discovered” by visitors as they explore Avalon and work their way up Avalon Canyon.

Near what is now the entrance to the garden, visitors would encounter the “Islands Exploration Station,” a new nature center that would include an interactive exhibit area, art and photography gallery, retail space, and tea room. The exhibits and multi-media stations would tell the stories of Catalina’s and the Channel Islands’ ecology, geology, Native Americans, and conservation challenges and successes. An outdoor amphitheater, providing much needed event space for the community, is proposed to blend in with the canyon’s wall to the east.

Exiting the Exploration Station en route to the garden, visitors would view new plantings, such as a Channel Islands Garden, Children’s Garden, Pollinator Garden and a well-contained Invasive Plants Garden in addition to Mrs. Ada Wrigley’s beloved Desert Plant Collection. The Garden would be completely re-aligned, rerouting the access road that currently runs down its center to make way for numerous enhancements.

The area just in front of the Wrigley Memorial, now popular for special events and wedding receptions, would be built up and leveled and made into a circular stage. Below the stage, an underground catering kitchen and restrooms will be added, that will make running water and electricity available to those using the space for events.

Gondola to “Earthrise”

“The view from Divide Road on both sides of the Island is one of Catalina’s most spectacular views, yet only a small percentage of those who live here or visit have ever seen it,” noted Muscat. For visitors who cannot hike or would rather ride to the top of the Divide Road, a gondola-type of transportation has been envisioned to whisk people up and over the hills to the top of the road. An observation deck constructed there would provide unrestricted views of Avalon, the San Pedro Channel, San Clemente Island, and the Pacific Ocean.

A solar collection disc dubbed “Earthrise” would power the gondola. Visible from the channel side of the Island as a blue, half-round, sliver above the Wrigley Memorial, Earthrise would provide an iconic visual attraction and “must see” for those coming to Catalina.

Middle Ranch Remake

Comprised of Eagles Nest Lodge, the James H. Ackerman Native Plant Nursery, historic stables, and the Conservancy’s Conservation and Facilities Department with its heavy equipment, Middle Ranch is currently a hodgepodge of history. The Imagine Catalina plan proposes creating distinct “nodes” for science, facilities, and cultural heritage functions. Under the plan, the Island’s western heritage would be fully restored and showcased as a tour stop near the junction of Middle Ranch Road and Skull Canyon Road. “Historic Middle Ranch” would include the renovated Eagle’s Nest Lodge, the old barn and stables and potentially animal rehabilitation enclosures.

Middle Ranch would also be the home of the “Center for Conservation Innovation,” a complex that would house the Conservation Department and provide living space and labs for visiting scientists and researchers. It would also incorporate the existing Native Plant Nursery and greenhouses, and feature cutting-edge technologies for waste management and demonstration food production, such as vertical greenhouses. The Conservancy’s Facilities Department and new employee housing would be relocated to a site further up Skull Canyon out of sight from the main road.

Trek Catalina

In the third part of its assignment, the visioning team imagined new ways to attract and delight outdoor enthusiasts. Imagine Catalina proposes camping experiences for every taste and budget. On the lower-cost and more rugged end, thru-campers could continue to pitch tents or throw down sleeping bags but enjoy upgraded amenities, such as composting toilets and solar showers. On a sliding scale with higher comfort costing more, visitors could enjoy innovative sleeping units that can house up to four people. The units consist of round, three-foot tall, earthen berms around 14-foot-wide gabion retaining walls, covered by custom, high-ceiling tents. These sleeping units are proposed to be piloted at a site yet to be determined, then expanded to availability at other sites.

For those who prefer true luxury, Comfort Camping units would be offered, outfitted with optional amenities that include a queen bed, side tables, chairs, raised flooring, electrical power and linen service. Final sites for Comfort Camping are yet to be determined. Enhanced opportunities to package guided hikes, tours, kayaking, food service and other companion activities will all be part of the offering. “We want to leave visitors with a sense of Catalina as the very special ecological and cultural destination it is,” said Muscat, who added that a phasing plan is currently under development.

“We aim to be good partners with the community by providing services and activities that ensure a quality experience for visitors,” Muscat continued. “We also hope to inspire those who may not already have the Catalina ‘bug’ to catch it, to come more often and stay longer, and to support the protection and restoration of this very special Island for today and for the future.”


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