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BETTER NATURE STATE PARK SEEKS IMPROVEMENTS.

Byline: Heather MacDonald Staff Writer

NEWHALL - The Placerita Nature Center, one of the treasures of the Santa Clarita Valley, needs a face lift.

Every year, hundreds of schoolchildren visit the nature center and are mesmerized by the exhibits that feature the critters who call Placerita Canyon State Park's rugged, lush terrain home.

``It is really a hidden treasure,'' said Jim Southwell, the president of the center's board. ``So many people, especially those who live on the west side of the valley, don't even know we're here.''

As part of the celebration of the center's 30th anniversary, the board members have laid out a 10-year plan that includes the construction of a new nature center and an amphitheater, and the doubling of the size of the state park.

``The center is dilapidated,'' Southwell said. ``And we're standing on each other's shoulders.''

Southwell and the other board members are hoping to convince the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation - which runs the state park - to renovate the nature center and expand the exhibits while modernizing the facility.

``The park is really a beautiful place to go hiking,'' Chris Harlan, a resident of nearby Sand Canyon, said while getting ready Sunday to set off on one of the park's dozens of trails. ``I come to see the wildlife and the history.''

The park and center, about 1 1/2 miles from the Placerita Canyon Road off- ramp from the Antelope Valley Freeway, are free and open to the public seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Brittany Weistling, 6, visiting the park Sunday with her father, was enthralled by the great horned owl at the center.

``He's my favorite,'' she said, agreeing that the center's red-tailed hawk was a bit frightening.

Other goals for the center include the construction of an information booth and a threefold increase in the number of visitors and children in its programs. Nature center officials also want to set up a nature stewardship program for children and an outreach program for seniors, and attract more volunteers, according to the center's newsletter.

``There are so many ongoing challenges,'' Southwell said. ``We're worried about noise and light pollution, and the threat of development is ever present.''

Southwell and the board helped lead the charge against the Golden Valley Ranch development, which includes 498 homes, 974 acres of open space and a large shopping center, just north of the state park. The council's approval of the development is being challenged in court.

``Today's threat may be Golden Valley Ranch and the potential of a road across the park, but we can only guess what the next challenge might be,'' wrote Gordon Uppman, board co-vice president, in the nature center's newsletter. ``The vigilance of our volunteers and staff in fighting these threats has been remarkable.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Alex Gerlock, left, Kendrick Mausolf, Eric Smith and Loretta Mausolf walk a trail Sunday at Placerita Canyon State Park.

(2 -- color) A rattlesnake safe behind glass is one of the exhibits at the popular Nature Center at Placerita Canyon State Park.

Shaun Dyer/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 11, 2002
Words:525
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