Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve raises signed steel beams for new outdoor pavilion

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Major donor to the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation and contractor of Electric Work, Inc. Jon Reuter (left) and Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve park interpreter Rob Hicks, stands at the site of the new pavilion construction project one year after the Tenaja Fire destroyed the preserve's original pavilion. Jon Reuter has donated time management to the preserve's pavilion construction. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

It was a quiet, but much anticipated moment as the first steel beams were hoisted into place on the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve’s new outdoor pavilion at the visitor center, which will replace the first stage that was destroyed in the Tenaja Fire in September 2019.

The heavy black beams installed by workers were even more meaningful to the more than 100 Forever Beam Builders, who each had their names painted in white on the beams. The Beam Builders raised more than $13,000 to rebuild the stage and pavilion from the ground up.

Donors who helped fund the construction of the new pavilion have their names signed on beams that will be raised to cover the new stage at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve Visitor Center. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo
Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve park interpreter Rob Hicks and Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation Executive Director Ginger Greaves sign donors’ names on steel beams before lifting them into place at the reserve’s visitor center. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

The new outdoor pavilion will provide a place where visitors and students can learn about what nature has brought to the reserve and how they can protect the local wildlife. The stage is also used for the summer entertainment schedule presented by the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation as a fundraiser to maintain the reserve and educate students from area schools.

The reserve is a part of the Riverside County Regional Park and Open Space District and is open to the public with naturalists and rangers on hand to provide information and ensure the safety of its resources. More than 100 volunteers from the SRPNEF, with more being recruited from the surrounding communities, staff the visitors center and conducting tours of the vernal pools, protected oak trees and rare native plants and help maintain many bridges and trails.

The construction of the new pavilion at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve Visitor Center comes just over one year after the Tenaja Fire destroyed the original pavilion. The new pavilion will feature historical Native American elements related to the plateau. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo
Remnants of charred vegetation from the Tenaja Fire is seen as ABC Sage construction workers lift a beam for the new pavilion at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve Visitor Center. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

Since the Tenaja Fire, Sept. 4, 2019, volunteers have been mostly idle. A few manage the visitors gate and open the Sylvan Meadows trailhead, but that may soon change, more trails may open in the coming months. The need for more volunteers has been posted on the SRPNEF website at http://www.srpnef.org.

While visitors to the reserve remain limited and the visitor’s center is closed, the SRPNEF board said they are looking ahead to the stage’s grand opening, the return of the summer entertainment programs in 2021 and the hundreds of elementary school children who will visit.

The stage’s cement slab has specially designed tiles with Native American images, which honor the first people to settle in the Valley. Native plants will surround the staging area with an educational nature walk.

“There is much work to be done,” SRPNEF officials said.

The foundation presented the annual student scholarship awards for Murrieta Mesa High School students who will study environmental science majors in college. This year’s scholarship award winners were Robert Cline, Kar Elles, Isabella Nowlin and Melody Shelter. Their names were announced in the foundations’ newsletter.

The SRPNEF, in light of the COVID-19 restrictions and the help of grants, has been developing virtual nature education resources for teachers, students and the community. The series of fun, standard-based, educational and informational videos will be released by the end of the year. Anyone interested in sponsoring the program can email execdirector@srpnef.org.

Construction workers lift a steel beam at the new pavilion project funded by donors to the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo
Construction workers lift a steel beam at the new pavilion project funded by donors to the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation. Valley News/Shane Gibson photo

SRPNEF also announced it received a $25,000 Climate Change grant by 3M Science Applied to Life that will be focused on middle and high school students. The project, being designed in Corona, will include problem-solving activities around converting waste materials for reusable purposes.

Those interested in volunteering at the reserve may email programs@atsantarosaplateau.org and see the budget line SRP volunteer. Applications must be received not later than Sept. 30.

The Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve is located at 39400 Clinton Keith Road in Murrieta. Currently the visitor’s center is closed, and only the Sylvan Meadows Trail is open. County parks has been keeping the reserve closed for the past year to allow the plants and trees to recover in the burned areas and to protect hikers from any dangerous burned out trees that could fall across the trails until they are cleared and bridges replaced. The parks department will announce new openings as they occur.

Tony Ault can be reached by email at tault@reedermedia.com.