by Abelina J. Nuñez
photography by Camille C.Nan
The Barn Owl stares back at you without blinking. There is something about an owl. They are wise and symbolize knowledge. This one is all that and is straight from the Harry Potter movie series. He has a white face that almost looks painted on. His tan feathers shine resplendently, even in the shadows of his cage. The Barn Owl is one of many animals being rehabilitated at the San Dimas Canyon Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary. At the moment, the Center has five owls, two falcons, one turkey vulture, an opossum and a mule deer. All are native to the area. All have been rescued and are being nursed back to health so they can perhaps be released back into the wild.
This is a sanctuary that showcases nature and wild animals while they are healing. Some of the animals are nursed back to health. Some become permanent residents. The Nature Center, with its interactive information center, is part of the 128 acre San Dimas Canyon Regional Park, located where the valley meets the foothills. The park itself holds a campground, hiking trails and a large park to picnic and play softball. The regional park allows people to come together at the picnic tables or the playground. People are invited to walk on the loop trail and to utilize multipurpose sports.
The Nature Center’s goal is to help people learn exciting facts about the plants and animals in their natural habitats to gain a new sense of respect and value for local wildlife, says Noemi Navar, regional park superintendent. It is her wish that visitors develop a greater appreciation for the nearby natural environments.
“The Nature Center and wildlife sanctuary specializes in introducing visitors to what they may see out in the park and in the natural world around them,” says Navar. “This includes ecosystems with plant communities such as California chaparral and oak woodlands, and wildlife that are native to the area, as well as the meaningful cultural history of the area.”
Navar says an important educational role is to inform visitors about environmental and wildlife conservation.
She says that some of their animal ambassadors will live out their natural lives at the wildlife sanctuary, where they are cared for daily by trained and dedicated naturalist staff.
“While it is sorrowful when any animal cannot live its life cycle the way they were naturally intended, it is the honor of park staff and volunteers to be able to care for and provide a high quality of life for these special individuals. They are meticulously cared for in captivity, with close attention paid to their behavioral cues, weight, and overall physical and emotional well-being,” Navar says.
“The only animals that are allowed to stay with us have to be non-releasable, and they have to be native to the area. We mainly have bird of prey, specifically at San Dimas, but we have a deer, we have an opossum, we do have some animals. But again, they must be needed,” she says.
Navar says that they ask residents to call the Nature Center before bringing in an injured animal, and they work with several rehabbers who transport injured animals too.
Taking care of animals is costly. The San Dimas Canyon Nature Center has a program called Brick-by-Brick, which pays for animal enclosure improvements, food, vet care and sanctuary upgrades. The bricks cost $50, and the money goes to the animals. Donors can add their names to the brick, which is displayed at the Nature Center. Donation of time and money are also welcomed. The money goes directly into feeding and caring for the animal ambassadors.
“We are always looking for volunteers to help with ongoing programs, special events, animal care, trail maintenance, and native planting,” Navar says.
A free nature walk is offered every second Saturday of the month starting at 11 a.m. No registration is needed for the experience where people can hike through San Dimas Canyon’s wildlife habitat with a trained naturalist. The hiking trail is a mile long and has a scenic loop. The trail has many ups and downs, allowing you to see much of the San Gabriel Valley from the hillside. Walkers tell of spotting deer and other wildlife on the route. At trail end is a field of native sunflowers that explode with their yellow intensity. The bees own this area. But you can enjoy them too.
“This trail is favored for its rich ecosystems, which includes large stands of native prickly pear cacti, wildflowers, native sages, oak trees, yucca, and more,” says Navar.
“Every Body Explores,” is a program that provides people of all ages an opportunity to check out a naturalist field backpack, which they then use to complete self-guided activities, make observations and explore the Park. This is offered on Tuesday through Friday from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. The opportunity is also offered on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. It is a free event; no prior registration required. The Center also offers the last Friday of every month from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. a free family story time, which is an interactive program for young readers and their families. A “Nature Knowledge Night” allows visitors to spend an evening discovering the beauty of the natural world. The Center has activities like animal presentations, nature crafts and interactive educational talks. The free, drop-in program occurs on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The nearby campground allows visitors and residents to see and smell beautiful plants endemic to California. Many organized groups can reserve a tent spot and even have a small campfire to tell ghost stories in the early evening under the beautiful coastal Live Oaks. Only large groups are allowed to camp here, sometimes up to 50 people, and the cost varies, but it is usually about $600 a night. Navar says you must call 14 days in advance to make a reservation and pay 14 days in advance. She also says fire pit use is arranged with a fire permit from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
“The San Dimas Canyon Nature Center and Regional Park is important as it is a safe, fun, welcoming space where people can explore and learn about the natural world,” Navar says.
The San Dimas Canyon Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary is open Tuesday through Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Closed Monday. San Dimas Regional Park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, with restrooms available from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.