Asking visitors at the Matilija Environmental Science Area to recycle bottles and cans has a practical purpose as well as an ecological one--it means a few more dollars to buy playground equipment.
The nonprofit society has seen hard times and is not yet out of the financial woods.
Although its lease with the county Flood Control District is paid by the Ventura County superintendent of schools, MESA has always taken pains to maintain its vast acreage through admission fees. In recent years, fire, flood and drought have complicated its mission.
When the Wheeler Canyon fire roared through the area in 1985, many trees and brushy areas in the canyon were destroyed. The following year, severe rains created massive dams of downed wood, which blocked trails and played havoc with attendance.
Since then, MESA staff members, on a volunteer basis, have gradually cleared much of the debris and this year the California Conservation Corps has contributed about 2,000 hours to rebuilding trails, said Tia Gatica, program director.