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True Colors of Upper Bay : Newport Conservancy Gives Away Wildlife Drawing Books for Earth Day Education


COSTA MESA--Chasen Marshall, 9, picks up a crayon and thumbs through the coloring book, pausing at the page where the light-footed clapper rail stands, spindly-legged against a backdrop of tall grass. "I've seen a bird like that," he says, "but I didn't know its name."

Nor did Chasen know that the majestic bird with the six-foot wingspan is a great blue heron, or that the high-jumping fish is called a silver mullet.

The birds and fish live in Upper Newport Bay, and by the time Chasen and his classmates color their way through the entire 12-page book, they will learn the names of many of the bay's inhabitants--such as the snowy egret. "That's my favorite," Chasen says.

Although this may look like child's play, it is not. Chasen and other third-graders at Paularino Elementary School are getting a valuable lesson in ecology.

In recognition of Earth Day, the Newport Conservancy, an organization dedicated to preserving open space around Upper Newport Bay, has created and donated about 6,000 coloring books to schoolchildren in Costa Mesa and Newport Beach. Aimed at kids in kindergarten through third grade, the books are designed to teach children to appreciate the area--and to preserve it.

"The younger generation seems to be leading the older generation these days in the importance of preserving the environment," says Marianne Towersey, the conservancy member in charge of the school program. "With the coloring books we thought it was a good way to acquaint the younger kids with all the species that are out there."

The package, including coloring book and wildflower seed packets, was offered to about 30 schools in the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa area, according to Towersey.

"We sent out samples and said we had them available and that we also had a slide presentation," she says. "We were hopeful we'd get a good response, but the response has been overwhelming."

Jean Lynch, a third-grade teacher at Paularino School, was one of the first to order her copies of the free books. "The children's faces lit up when they heard we were going to get them," she says. "Most of the children know about the bay. We are blessed to have an estuary right here."

Vanessa Asbury, 9, says she has been to the bay many times, but that she never knew the Gabrielino Indians once lived there until she started coloring the images in the book.

And 8-year-old Natalie Masciale says: "I just knew about the fish."

Candi Hubert, a naturalist who lives near the Castaways, one of the sites the conservancy is trying to preserve, says it is important that children learn that the plants and animals in the area make up an important ecosystem. That's one reason Hubert, a research specialist for the Orange County Department of Education, volunteered to put together the slide presentation for the project.

"I think that it is a sort of sequential way of looking at the area, to educate them about what is out there and how it all interacts and that it is an important place for the wildlife," she says.


The Newport Conservancy is negotiating a price and option agreement with the Irvine Company, which owns both the 56-acre Castaways and the 77-acre Newporter North, both of which overlook Upper Newport Bay. The Castaways is along the southwesterly side of the Upper Bay, near Dover Drive and Westcliff Drive; Newporter North, a wetland habitat, is between Jamboree and Back Bay Drive.

Both areas, once valued at more than $100 million, are slated for development. Although Towersey says that price negotiations are now "under $60 million," coming up with the money won't be easy. The 2,000-member conservancy is surveying residents of Newport Beach to determine how they feel about approving a bond issue to purchase the land.

In order to make people aware of efforts to preserve the two parcels, the conservancy is trying to encourage residents to visit both places.

"We are going to devote a lot of energy in getting people out to the sites so that they can appreciate them," Towersey says. "We are trying to reach out to families. Nature is one of the best outlets that families have, and you always appreciate it when you know more about it. And when people get out and appreciate nature, they naturally want to save it."

Towersey points out that the coloring book project is one of the conservancy's first efforts to reach children in the community. The book, conceived and written by Huntington Beach writer Skip Pedigo, takes kids on a tour through the 1,000-acre ecological preserve, pointing out interesting animals along the way.

"Because it is their heritage we're dealing with, I felt we needed to reach children," says Pedigo, "and make them aware of the importance of preserving Upper Newport Bay. A coloring book seemed like a good method because it could inform as well as entertain. We're all thrilled with the overwhelming response from the schools."


Costa Mesa artist Terry Dunn provided illustrations, based upon Pedigo's story. So far the books have been a hit with kids and teachers alike.

"We don't (usually) get anything free," teacher Jean Lynch says. "This really is special. They are beautifully done. It may not seem like much to the outside world, but it is definitely educational."

Lynch says her pupils are interested in anything having to do with the environment. Throughout the year Lynch's curriculum includes environmental topics ranging from recycling to preserving the rain forests.

"It is an ongoing part of everything we do," Lynch says. "When they study it young, it becomes a part of them."

Lynch says that children today are already much more aware of the environment than she was when she was a child. "I told them (that) when I was their age, recycling wasn't even a word that was used," she says. "Now, we have a recycling box for papers in our classroom."

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