Saturday, August 20, 2016

Conserving Desert Land

-from Anne C Morgan, Head Curator

Education staff member Angelina Coble talks about drought resistant plants
in the Hector Sanchez Eagle Scout garden
Our visitors want to learn about the desert. This has been made clear over the last several months as we have been collecting information from visitors and members in preparation for completing a new five-year Strategic Plan.  We have piloted field trips hiking around our property. The one Eagle Scout garden that was planted in 2014 is beginning to look amazing.  We have just been asked to give a desert hiking experience to a group of educators who don't really want to go that far into the desert. Though we have not quite completed all phases of the interior exhibits, part of the Museum’s long-term plan must now look at addressing questions and opportunities outside of the museum as well.

Preserving the Desert
Last year, the Desert Museum and the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy collaborated on a project to protect 15 acres of vacant desert land near the museum. The Kumeyaay people have the most diverse traditional landscape of any people in the Americas: going from the Pacific coast, through the mountains, to the lakeshore, the desert, and into Baja California.  The partnership between IVDM and KDLC created a mechanism where desert land could be purchased, protected, and used for museum and education programs.

New properties will be used for museum and education programs    
In July, the Desert Museum received a grant from the ProtectOur Communities Foundation to buy and protect two additional parcels of land directly adjacent to the museum parking lot.  The grant of $140,000 allowed the museum to acquire the parcels, and working with the KDLC, conservation easements will ensure that these properties will forever be used for museum and education programs.   

For years the museum has been surrounded by vacant desert land. The museum was built to be a low-impact building within this environment. Driving past the museum on Interstate 8 the surrounding desert land is striking, but it was never protected. Now it is. 

Part of the Museum’s mission is to preserve desert lands. Part of that mission is also to celebrate and educate people about the desert. Visitor feedback has shown that people are unanimously interested in seeing the museum expand its exhibits to the outdoors.  Acquiring and preserving the properties around us will allow us to develop programs for the public, interpret the importance of our drought resistant desert plants, and allow access to the beauty of the desert biome.     

The Great Outdoors

6th graders from Sunflower Elementary hike on museum lands in the 2015 school season    
Many people who come to the Desert Museum for the first time come in thinking that the desert is boring.  “There’s nothing there” is a common statement.  Our interior exhibits are designed to make people think about what they see when they are outside, and to understand what they are seeing. The Rock Talk pullouts and the Land of Extremes panoramas were created to give visitors a new view of the land.  We hope that making connections like this will make more people interested in going out on hikes and putting that knowledge into practice. With the protection of the properties near the museum, we will now have the ability to get people directly out into a desert environment. This is a game changer.

Partners and Friends
We have been working on protecting all of the property around the museum for more than a year. This could never have happened without the help of our friends and partners. 

Our partnership with the Kumeyaay Diegueno Land Conservancy has been a huge success. The KDLC is an organization that has benefitted from the support from nine of the twelve Kumeyaay Bands in the United States. They are a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and protecting environmentally and culturally sensitive lands within the traditional Kumeyaay territory.  The museum is hoping that the partnership will be long-term and will result in some great projects.

Mary Anne Zimmerman, Attorney-at-law, was indispensable in creating a draft conservation easement. She has been a long-time member and supporter of the museum. At a critical time, she was able to provide council and a direction that proved successful.

The grant process with the Protect Our Communities Foundation began in October 2015. We appreciate their communication and diligence at following through with our proposals. In the end, we achieved even more than we had expected when we applied for their grant. Their aid in protecting vacant desert land around the museum will benefit the education of generations of students in Imperial County. 

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