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TOPICS / ENVIRONMENT : Supporters Rally Around Eaton Canyon

March 31, 1994|ANDREW LePAGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Eaton Canyon Nature Center is the kind of place that gets lemons and makes lemonade.

After last October's wildfires scorched the center's 184-acre wilderness park and burned down its building, park supporters spent little time lamenting the loss. And the center's director blissfully announced: "We'll have a fantastic fire ecology park."

Since then, busloads of children and carloads of hikers have been watching how nature responds to a fire. And the county and park volunteers are in the process of not only rebuilding the structure, but adding and improving, perhaps with new wildlife exhibits or medicinal-plant gardens.

Two upcoming public hearings will give people a chance to offer more ideas.

The first is scheduled for 7 tonight at Farnsworth Park, 568 East Mt. Curve Ave. in Pasadena. The other hearing is set for 7 p.m. on April 28 at the Los Angeles County Arboretum, 301 Baldwin Ave. in Arcadia.

After the hearings, the county will draw up preliminary building plans to determine how much funding will be needed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the state Office of Emergency Services have agreed to cover the bulk of the rebuilding costs, which county officials estimate will amount to more than $2.5 million. That only covers the cost of building a center identical to the original. Volunteers who have long supported the park hope to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to make the new center even better.

The old Eaton Canyon nature center structure, built in 1963, was a 5,300-square-foot stucco building. It had a gift shop, library, 186-seat auditorium and geology, plant and animal exhibits.

After the first of the public meetings on the new center was held last month, several suggestions surfaced. For instance, some want the new center to be made of more costly materials, possibly an adobelike substance that is supposed to be sturdy and fireproof, and blend in well with the natural surroundings. Many center supporters would also like energy-efficient heating and cooling systems to be installed.

Another suggestion is that the old center's auditorium be replaced by a multipurpose room with a kitchen. That room could be rented for meetings.

The new building may end up being slightly larger than the former and may be relocated to an area closer to the parking lot, according to Mickey Long, the center's director.

Fund-raising efforts are off to a good start: In addition to sparking a colorful array of wildflowers that are beginning to bloom amid the ashes in the park, the October fire has triggered newfound support for the center from San Gabriel Valley nature lovers.

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Since the October blaze, the volunteer organization Eaton Canyon Nature Center Associates has collected about $66,000 in donations--10 times what the center's volunteer gift shop would raise in a year, according to group President Cynthia Null. Also since the fire, she said, the group's membership list has tripled from about 260.

The group also has received grants totaling about $53,000 from conservation organizations such as the Santa Monica Mountain Conservancy and the Pasadena-based Flintridge Foundation.

In all, Null said, the group hopes to raise $500,000 over the next three years to help pay for construction of the nature center and furnishings.

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