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Rain Forest Complex Is School for Preservation


Question: How do you avoid tripping if you have 200 legs?

Answer: The millipede has evolved a special gait, scuttling and undulating to keep its legs in order.

That was one fact children and adult visitors could learn Tuesday at the grand opening of BioTrek--Cal Poly Pomona's new rain forest simulation and learning center.

But the purpose of the 3,500-square-foot facility, four years in the making, is more ambitious than simply dispensing science trivia, according to officials. The facility aims to present a comprehensive picture of the world's rain forests and spread the message of environmental preservation, locally and globally.

"Universities should be [leaders in] addressing this very important issue," said Bob Suzuki, president of Cal Poly Pomona, during the unveiling ceremonies.

The Rainbird BioTrek Project--which officials say is unique among California State University campuses--has three components: the Rainforest Learning Center, the Aquatic Biology Learning Center and the Ethnobotany Learning Center, where people can learn about California native vegetation.

"It's a unique set of things," said Michael Brown, the facility's curator. "We are looking at local stuff, tropic stuff, concerned about both places."

BioTrek is intended to educate not just collegians but also elementary and high school students, politicians and community members, and is expected to attract 10,000 visitors a year.

For Rain Bird Corp.--the key funder of the nearly $1-million project--the focus on the conservation of water was appealing.

"This is a great example of how man and nature are supposed to interface," said Arthur Ludwick, Rain Bird's senior vice president.

On Tuesday, as students from Kellogg Polytechnic Elementary School in Pomona toured the humid rain forest simulator, graduate student Jessica Schreiber explained that, for indigenous people in the South American rain forest, the green iguana on display is a primary source of food.

And in the outdoor Ethnobotany Learning Center, visitors knelt to look at plants such as the Mojave prickly poppy--a short and fuzzy plant with beautiful white flowers with bright yellow centers.

BioTrek aims to teach, among the deeper lessons, how humans can be good stewards of rain forests, which hold 30% of the world's species, Brown said.

Closer to home, officials hope the facilities can educate policymakers about how development can be harmful to the local environment.

"We've had mayors of cities, vice presidents of major corporations," Brown said. "They're looking for knowledge as a corporate, responsible person, or as a mayor of a city that has an impact on the environment."

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