As if Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park didn’t already have enough to offer: beautiful vistas, diverse trails rich with flora and fauna, musical creeks and ancient oaks. Now, thanks to a grant from California Coastal Conservancy, there is a Visitor Center too, complete with interactive exhibits and fully plumbed restrooms! (Remember the outhouses at the corner of the parking lot?)
OC Parks Resource Specialist Rick Schaffer commented indeed, real plumbing is nice, but of course, the real deal is a new space to welcome visitors.
Designed to blur the lines between inside and outside, the Visitor Center has an observation deck overlooking the native garden with places to sit and watch hikers, bikers, and birders enter the park. The building is equipped with state-of-the-art audio/visual and has glass garage doors that, when fully opened, allow a flow from deck to exhibit hall to meeting area. The exhibits are on casters providing multiple ways the space can be adapted for different audiences.
“We are really looking forward to hosting interpretive events here – topics like snakes, watersheds and stewardship will be covered,” Rick said. “Those will likely happen in the Fall. In the meantime, it’s been wonderful to share the Center with the community.
“It’s especially fun to watch the kids as they interact with all the sensory features. They can touch fossils, enter a cave, hear the oral histories of the People of the Juaneno Band of Mission Indians and see models of native animals such as the Red-tailed Hawk, Coyote and Southwestern Pond Turtle,” Rick said.
And, as Rick explained, whether the exhibits help him and the Rangers share the story of the wilderness or he witnesses a “dream scene” as he calls it – a family going from exhibit to exhibit, reading to each other and pointing out the Tarantula Hawk or the Native American artifacts – the center clearly helps people understand how important the wilderness is.
Ranger Bryan Valladares commented that the Topo Map is a terrific way to engage with the public. “One of the most popular questions we get is ‘Where should we go?’” Bryan said. “Using the map, we can easily show hikers and bikers how steep, how long, how easy or tough a trail might be. We can show them where they would see a cave, the creeks or other special features in the park.”
The “Topo Map” is a topographical 3D map that shows elevations and canyons and has buttons that light up to show trails and points of interest.
There is also a diorama that starts right as one walks in the door. A creek, painted on the floor, leads visitors to a model riparian area, chockful of plants, animals and insects and interesting facts about how they live and survive.
And, as folks exit – perhaps to take a hike – there are helpful reminders of how we all can enjoy the wilderness and do our part to protect this land:
• Stay on trails
• Pick up litter
• Know who goes first
So come, take a closer look.
Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park Visitor Center
28373 Alicia Parkway
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677