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Long-awaited visitor’s center remodel complete, reopens to public April 12

Ed Neely, a member of the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association, and Park Interpreter Vicki Wiker, of California State Parks, have worked diligently to reopen the visitor’s center at Doheny. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
Ed Neely, a member of the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association, and Park Interpreter Vicki Wiker, of California State Parks, have worked diligently to reopen the visitor’s center at Doheny. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

By Andrea Papagianis

It’s been a long time coming. Seven years to be exact.

But after countless hours of preparation and thousands in donations, the aquariums at the Doheny State Beach visitor’s center are active, park store shelves are stocked and the long-awaited remodel is officially complete. Doors will open to the public for the first time since 2007 on Saturday, April 12.

With the opening, Doheny will be home to the largest public aquarium in the state park system.

Five large tanks and a tide-pool simulator bring sea life of nearby coastal waters within the reach of visitors. Just behind the glass, a moray eel, Garibaldi fish, lobsters and an array of fish swim among coral and kelp reefs, mimicking the world just beyond the center’s walls.

Chris Gallina, a California State Parks aquarist, shows off a spiny lobster. The lobster is among sea life featured in five aquariums at the visitor’s center, where the area’s rich wildlife and history is showcased. Photo by Andrea Papagianis
Chris Gallina, a California State Parks aquarist, shows off a spiny lobster. The lobster is among sea life featured in five aquariums at the visitor’s center, where the area’s rich wildlife is showcased. Photo by Andrea Papagianis

Lining opposite walls are animals from land and sky, making this center an educational hub for Southern California’s wildlife and ecology. A mural overlooking the visitor center’s tide pool, which bursts with rushes of water every few minutes, visually depicts the interconnectedness of man and sea.

A man is shown washing his car. The runoff—soaps and oils—are seen traveling down his driveway, into storm drains and entering estuaries before flowing into the ocean. It is something Ed Neely, a member of the Doheny State Beach Interpretive Association, hopes is lost on guests.

“That is a negative connection we want people to be aware of to start thinking about how they can prevent those things from happening,” Neely said.

It’s all about making connections, said Park Interpreter Vicki Wiker, who oversees Doheny’s seasonal and volunteer programming.

“This is where activism comes into play,” Wiker said. “It is first planting that seed, watching it bloom and creating that spark and that passion within our visitors.”

The center’s doors were closed in 2007 due to rampant mold and dry-rot.

Over the last seven years, the DSBIA has raised funds through volunteering, donations and membership dues to complete the center’s revamp. Founded in 1982, DSBIA is a nonprofit that coordinates with the state park to conserve Doheny’s beaches, facilities and natural refuge, as well as the historical, cultural and social stories of Doheny.

“Without our cooperative association we would not be standing here today,” Wiker said during a tour of the visitor’s center.

Neely is humble though. Without the support of sponsors and donations throughout the years, the center wouldn’t have been possible. The city of Dana Point, Rainbow Sandals, Utopia Entertainment, Southern California Edison, Omega Events and the Surfrider Foundation are among donors that made the center possible, Neely said. These mark a series of partnerships he hopes to continue.

“This is the end of this big long project but now when we cross the finish line there is a whole new spectrum of events for us to look forward to,” Neely said.

For now the Doheny State Beach visitor’s center, 25300 Dana Point Harbor Drive, will be open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. And during April, the center will be open on Wednesdays.

This is only the beginning, Wicker said. As the visitor’s center will be staffed by unpaid docents, more volunteers are needed to keep the center open daily. Wiker is currently seeking adult volunteers to participate in the docent program. She asks that every docent be willing to learn and available to work one day a month.

To find out more about becoming a docent, email Wiker at vicki.wiker@parks.ca.gov.

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comments (1)

  • Ed was my elementary school teacher in the mid 70s. Would love to get a hold of him! I’m 45 and I still think about how awesome a teacher he was!

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