Nature center idea discussed in Dunsmuir

Richard DuPertuis
Senior grants specialist Bruce Irwin, second from right, discusses grant-funded project administration Friday with community representatives on a path near the park amphitheater, site of a proposed Dunsmuir Nature Center project. He said that if the grant is accepted, 25% of the $3 to 7 million will go into project management, a task councilman Mario Rubino, second from left, wanted undertaken by someone other than the city. Others listening were, left to right, DBG members Harriet Alto and Judy Harvey, Carl Alto, and River Exchange board member Chris Stromsness.

After a flurry of last-minute meetings and phone calls Friday, National Grants Services' Bruce Irwin reported that Tauhindauli Park in Dunsmuir will be listed as an alternate site for a nature center in his application for a $3 to 7 million grant. He also stated that another site he discovered just that morning, a swath of land alongside the river just north of City Park, would be listed as first choice.

“This is it!” he had declared excitedly in the City Hall earlier Friday. “We can build a loop trail to the botanical gardens. It's perfect!” Park and Recreation Board chair Brian Wilson reacted to Irwin's enthusiasm with cautious optimism. “Personally, I'd like to see this happen,” he said. “But I hesitate to just change the decision we all made last night. That was a painful process.”

Wilson was referring to a town hall meeting he had attended at the Dunsmuir Parks and Recreation office Thursday night. There, senior grants specialist Irwin had presented a proposal for a nature center in City Park to an audience comprised of fifteen community leaders, including the mayor and two city council members, Parks and Recreation Board members and board members of Dunsmuir Botanical Gardens. He received stiff opposition for the location but support for the plan itself.

Irwin called Proposition 84's intent for community parks development a perfect fit for an educational nature center in Dunsmuir. He described stone walkways leading to a open riparian habitat, an interpretive center with gift store and a stream profile chamber, an aquarium simulating a cross section of nearby river life, stocked with live, indigenous fish and aquatic plants.

Irwin asked those present if they even wanted such a facility. “Yes,” replied Botanical Gardens board member Harriet Alto, “But not in Botanical Gardens.” Mayor Peter Arth said that when the City Council had contracted Irwin's services last March, the site being considered was Tauhindauli Park. Irwin explained that he had met unexpected resistance to developing a plan for Tauhindauli from the Department of Fish and Game, and that he didn't have time to deal with them and make the deadline for the application, which was one week away.

He apologized for targeting the park area but he stressed, “This is 100% financed by government money. We won't see this kind of opportunity again in my lifetime.”

After a long brainstorming session the audience, by nearly a two thirds majority, selected the site of the amphitheater south of the park as suitable location for the project. Irwin said that he would visit it the following morning and invited anyone interested to meet him there.

Friday morning, four members of the previous night's audience showed up, along with one new person, River Exchange Board member Chris Stromsness. An impromptu meeting began on the path before the amphitheater.

Councilman Mario Rubino said, “The city doesn't want to be seen as heading this,” he said. He said that the city wants Parks and Recreation involved. He asked that Botanical Gardens or some other organization like that to take charge as lead agency.

Judy Harvey replied, “Dunsmuir has to hold the money.” Irwin agreed stating, “The lead agency holds the money.” He said that if the grant proposal is accepted they would have three years to decide who or what the lead agency would be.

Rubino stressed his point. “Unless the people who want it work it, it won't happen,” he stated flatly. “If the city is the lead agency, it will fail.” Rubino explained that he was concerned about continuity, and worried that a future city administration might “step on the toes of Botanical Gardens.”

 Irwin asserted that the project will cost the people of Dunsmuir nothing. “I want to be very clear,” he said. “If the grant is not approved, the city will be out only the $1000 they paid me.” Irwin was referring to the fee he had charged to apply for the funds. He would receive additional payment, equal to 6% of the amount of the grant, if successful.

Later in the day, Irwin burst excitedly into City Hall. He said that Rubino had shared a vague memory around some property north of City Park, directly on the river. He thought it belonged to Cave Springs owner Louie Dewey. But when Irwin contacted Dewey, the motel owner told Irwin that he had deeded the property, years ago, to the State of California Conservation Board, pending transfer of ownership to the City of Dunsmuir. For an unknown reason, the paperwork on this had stalled somewhere for eight years. If this process were to resume, the city would own the property Irwin planned to highlight in his application.

Later Friday Irwin phoned in to report that he had just made a contact, through which he will be able to schedule a telephone conference with the Department of Fish and Game, including the staff member who he said had blocked his Tauhindauli efforts earlier. Confident of clearing that obstacle, he reported that Tauhindauli Park is back on the table.