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Over the last 17 years the little building in the back of Ramsay Park that we’ve all come to know as Watsonville’s Nature Center has been serving as a space where community members of all ages and backgrounds can engage in environmental conservation, learn about local habitats, receive free conservation devices, embark on guided nature walks, and participate in hands-on learning experiences.
In 2004 the City of Watsonville, through the stewardship of the Department of Public Works & Utilities, established the City’s Nature Center as a place for community environmental learning and wetland exploration; and to act as the gateway to the award winning City trails.
The Nature Center housed in a small portable trailer with a few exhibits and some wetlands specimens became a local attraction. Since inception it has hosted over 5,000 local community members and area visitors per year. The Nature Center has also served as a clearinghouse for information on the City’s utilities services and Public Works projects; and general conservation information, such as composting, waste reduction, recycling, water conservation, and pollution prevention.
Though the center is crowded, the exhibits outdated, and the trailer dilapidated, local residents had continued to flock to it in part due to the welcoming bilingual staff and previous positive experiences. But this spring all of this will be demolished to make way for a new permanent nature center on the hilltop of Ramsay Park.
The new permanent center is part of the City’s Ramsay Park Master Plan and will be funded to a great extent from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). City staff has hired 19six Architects to start working on the building design. The proposed new facility will provide significantly more space for guests and interpretive exhibits, and house a multi-purpose room, an observation deck, and office space.
“Our dream of having a bigger and permanent center is getting closer. I’ve waited more than 10 years to see this happen!” said Cristy Cassel, Environmental Project Manager for the City’s Department of Public Works & Utilities. “The new center will continue to serve our diverse community, which is why this new space will be designed thinking of the user experience. We want to make sure every member of the Watsonville community feels inspired to engage in environmental conservation; most importantly we want everyone to feel welcomed, like they belong there.”
The new building will also function as a demonstration of sustainable building techniques, as the current design seeks a LEED Silver Designation using recycled materials, solar power, and environmental design to show the City’s dedication to sustainability.
“With everything that is going on with climate change, we are excited to see the new center as a place where the community can also learn and participate in climate action and emergency preparedness,” Cassel said. “Our hope is to build a more informed, connected, and resilient community.”
As part of her legacy, Nancy Lockwood, a long term City employee who helped establish the Nature Center, left behind funds to support the creation of a new Watsonville Nature Center facility. The funds are held in The Nancy Lockwood Fund (EIN 94-2808039), at the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County under the oversight of Watsonville Wetlands Watch. Funds originated from a bequest from Nancy Lockwood to the Community Foundation for this purpose and for others to donate to make her dream possible. The new facility will also provide shared office and program space for the City’s long-time partner, Watsonville Wetlands Watch, to conduct ongoing programs for wetland preservation, environmental education, restoration and stewardship efforts for the City.