Visiting the Environmental Nature Center in Newport Beach

After growing up in Orange County I figured I knew the area pretty well. Disneyland’s here, Knott’s Berry Farm is there, the beach is over there and so forth and so forth. Yet, I seem to still discover places I’d never heard of. Even places that have been around my entire existence. Take, the Environmental Nature Center. One day, driving around Newport Beach I noticed a sign for it. I wondered what it was and made a mental note to one day check it out. Well, this week that day came and I paid it a visit.

It turns out the Environment Nature Center was founded in 1972 (how did I not know about it???) and has a pretty interesting backstory. When the adjacent Newport Harbor High School was excavating their swimming pool they dumped the dirt on a “useless” plot of land. Well, what some folks found useless others found full of potential. A group of dedicated teacher and student volunteers decided to turn the land into an outdoor nature lab and now, over 40 years later, it’s a local institution.

Today this “useless” piece of land is filled with nature trails winding through 15 different California native plant communities ranging from coastal scrublands to redwood forests.

Upon first glance the Environmental Nature Center seems like an odd duck. Sandwiched between houses, a high school and commercial buildings it can hardly be called the wilderness. Being located directly under a flight path doesn’t help either. But, somehow, it all comes together to form a lovely, hidden oasis in the heart of urban sprawl.

As I wandered around I heard birds chirping in the trees, saw monarch butterflies drifting by and crossed paths with a shy rabbit and one of the chubbiest, most contented looking squirrels I’ve ever seen.

It was so peaceful and the day was so beautiful that I wandered around and around until I’m pretty sure I covered every inch of the trails.

I couldn’t believe that such a seemingly small plot of land could contain such a diverse landscape.

While the center is open to people of all ages it offers several programs aimed towards children from field trips to nature camps to an upcoming onsite preschool and it really is the perfect place to bring a child to introduce them to the natural world.

There’s also an onsite nature museum that offers further information on the various plant environments and animals that occupy them. Included, is a miniature reptile zoo if you’re into all that is scaly and slimy.

I can’t believe that the Environmental Nature Center has existed throughout my entire lifetime and, until recently, I knew nothing about it! As they say, better late than never and I’m so glad I had a chance to visit.




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