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OUT AND ABOUT / OUTDOOR CLASSROOM

Getting a Taste of Nature

March 16, 1995|CHRISTINA V. GODBEY

Naturalist Peter Rice likes to take walks on the wild side.

In the work world, he's an installer/repairman for GTE in Santa Monica. But in Franklin Canyon and the other trails of the local mountains, you can find him nearly every weekend leading nature hikes for the William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom.

WODOC, as it's known, is the child of the Mountains Education Program, which was founded, in turn, in 1989 by the Santa Monica Nature Conservancy.

If you want to get acquainted with Rice, who has devoted most of his 46 years to the outdoors, you'll have a chance Sunday when he leads his popular three-hour "Incredible Edibles" hike.

"I do a lot of teaching through the senses," Rice said. "I want people to learn and enjoy themselves."

Rice begins the one-mile hike by retelling stories about the history and culture of this unusual canyon above Beverly Hills. Along the way, he touches upon such topics as native peoples, animals and the impact of pollution on the environment. He also points out indigenous plants, many of which are classified as wild, exotic and poisonous.

Because it is illegal to pick anything in the Santa Monica Mountains and other national lands, Rice brings his own bag of goodies--wild mustard, cheeseweed or lemonade berries--for hikers to touch, smell and taste.

Many steps later, it is time for what Rice calls the "supermarket tasting" session. He brings a sampling of nature's treats and discusses the origin of produce--bananas, apples, celery and carrots.

WODOC encourages parents to bring their children. And, the cost is more than affordable. It is free. Reservations, however, are required.

"I really like to see their happy faces, especially the family interaction," Rice said. "I was raised to go out on picnics. I gear (the hikes) toward family participation."

After taking several botany courses at Santa Monica College, Rice began hiking regularly in the local mountains. His desire to spend more time outdoors lead him to become a docent in 1984 for WODOC. Since then, he has branched out to lend his time to other Westside organizations, while continuing to read books and attend workshops about the Santa Monica Mountains.

"This is my way of giving back," said the Los Angeles resident. "It's been helpful for me to get involved in teaching."

The next "Incredible Edibles" hike is Sunday at 10 a.m. Meet at the Franklin Canyon Ranch Site, 2600 Franklin Canyon, Beverly Hills. Admission is free; reservations are required. Information: (310) 858-3090, Ext. 115.

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