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Montecito Heights' Debs Park

Debs Pond by David Mitchell

This lovely photo of Debs Pond by Montecitan David Mitchell. See more of David's wonderful photography in the Views Page.

The astonishingly vast (over 200 acres of Arroyo wilderness) Ernest E. Debs Regional Park provides native and migratory birds some of the last natural arroyo woodlands existent in Southern California. 

The Audubon Society has create a state-of-the-art eco-friendly nature and education facility, their first urban nature center. This cutting-edge environmental education center has lots of fun things for every one. There's a lovely children's area with a play-house, water and sand play areas, and an inter-active cart with an educator. Children can listen to bird-calls by pushing a button, look at tiny hummingbird nests, touch the soft down on the back of a Sycamore leaf (that's what hummingbirds line their nests with - did you know that?!?)  The facility has numerous activities that will keep you coming back to the Center again and again. 

Debs is a gem in the park system. The majority of its nearly 200 acres remain in a natural state. Trails weave throughout, and improved picnic areas are favorite sites for those holding family outings and community events. 

 

The Los Angeles Times describes the park well, the following copy of the L.A. Times Review of Debs Park is reprinted with permission:

LA TIME'S Editor's Profile
Ernest E. Debs Regional Park

If you are looking for a beautiful reprieve from urban life just a few minutes from downtown, the Ernest E. Debs regional park is the answer. This hilly, 282-acre, natural wilderness expanse is filled with a variety of trees including eucalyptus, pine and birch.

 

Hiking trails take you throughout the park to hilltop lakes, grassy fields, a bird sanctuary and landscaped picnic areas. Striking off the beaten trails and exploring the park's forests will satisfy the nature craving that Los Angeles can't.

Fishing is allowed in the park reservoir and the edges of the park offer scenic views of downtown, the parks of Glendale and the San Gabriel Mountains. Debs Regional Park has everything a time-strapped nature lover could ask for. -- Luke Metzger

Nationís Eyes on Montecito Heights as Audubon Builds First Urban Nature Reserve

An odd and touching thing happened as John Flicker, President of the Audubon Society addressed the excited crowd gathered at Debs Park to celebrate the beginning of construction on the new $18 million Audubon Nature and Science Center. As Mr. Flicker swept his hand out to indicate the 50,000 children that live within two miles of the nature center, an electric flutter ran through the crowd. People began pointing up at the sky, smiling and chatting eagerly. When I looked up, it took me a moment to understand what they were so excited about. I slowly realized that they had been admiring a glorious young red-tailed hawk. I hadnít noticed him at first because hawks are so common here that I just take them for granted. Through the eyes of the bird-watchers I saw the beauty of the hawk anew as he soared and swooped above the gathering, brilliantly plumed and flamboyantly gracious, as if he wished to sanctify this important moment in his flight.

The magnificent hawk was not the only celebrated attendee. Audubonís groundbreaking ceremony boasted a multitude of distinguished guests including Sharon Davis (wife of Governor Gray Davis), Hon. Xavier Becerra, Richard Polanco, Hon. Ed Reyes and Jackie Goldberg. One after another, these fine legislators praised the Audubon Society for bringing the delights of nature to urban children who may have no other opportunity to discover these wonders. Almost every speaker praised our community, declaring that our vision, vigor, and activism played a significant role in compelling Audubon to establish their very first urban nature center right here at Debs Park in Montecito Heights.

National Audubon Society President John Flicker remarked that although the Audubon Society is revered worldwide for its conservation and education efforts, the group has neglected to adequately serve urban areas. Flickers, in his charmingly humble commentary, did not mention the rich and courageous history Audubon brings to the table. Audubon first brought the plight of endangered birds into public awareness in the mid 1880ís, and remains one of the most powerful and respected conservation societies in the world. From Audubonís website:
Wildlife faced a bleak future at the beginning of the 20th century. There were no laws to control hunting of birds and animals. Birds were slaughtered by the millions. Their plumes were used for decorating hats, their nests were robbed for eggs, and many species were hunted for food. Entire species such as the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, and great auk were exterminated. George Bird Grinnell, editor of Forest and Stream, was one of the first to speak up against the mindless slaughter. In 1886 he encouraged his readers to join him in forming the country's first bird preservation organization, the Audubon Society. The society was named after the American naturalist and wildlife painter John James Audubon, who lived from 1785 to 1851.
Now the National Audubon Society is pioneering once again, creating a completely autonomous facility emphasizing innovative ďgreenĒ technology. This novel building approach will serve as a model to developers who wish to reduce long-range costs by going green, it will show how substantially it is possible to minimize impact of development, and prove just how stunningly beautiful an environmentally responsible facility can be. The Center was expressly designed to focus peoplesí attention outward, away from the confines of the structure itself and up and out toward the sky, to the trees and most significantly, to their beloved birds.

The Audubon Society believes that the need for an urban nature center cannot be overstated. According to Audubonís statistics, more than 50,000 school children live within a two-mile radius of the Center. Many of these children, though they live quite near Debs, have never used the park. Many of these children have never been outside the city at all, or even to the beach. Neither have their parents. To these families, there seems to be little reason to go anywhere in nature, they have no guide, no key to understanding the beauty and eloquence of the nature around them. This is the void that Audubon hopes to fill. By showing children at a tender age the quiet, matchless experience of being surrounded by pure nature, they hope to create lifelong conservationists.

My mind keeps drifting back to that hawk. It was nothing more than one of the many Montecito Heights red-tailed hawks that we see every day here. They íve always been here. So has Debs Park. So has Montecito Heights. So have we. And now, though the eyes of the Audubon Society, our children will see all of these things in a new way. The urban wildlife that has survived in the heart of Los Angeles into the 21st century are fantastic resilient wondrous creatures worth cherishing. And so are our children. And so is our park. And so are we.

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