New Nature Center at a Geological Wonder

Rebirth at Devil’s Punchbowl

Plans proceed to rebuild nature center

By JULIE DRAKE Valley Press Staff Writer

Sep 11, 2022 Updated Sep 12, 2022

VALYERMO — The conceptual design for the Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area Nature Center proposed replacement “builds on the theme of site transformation and rebirth into a new way to experience the landscape of Devil’s Punchbowl,” according to consultant Lacey Withers.

The original nature center was destroyed by the Bobcat Fire, nearly two years ago. The 1,000 square-foot building served as a garage from the 1940s until 1988, when it was converted into a nature center. The park was dedicated, in 1963.

The old building was a wooden structure. The proposed new nature center will incorporate fire-resilient architecture and best practices for building design, including the use of noncombustible materials for the building exterior.

Approximately 90% of the 1,310-acre Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area burned in the Bobcat Fire. The trails have reopened, but the habitat is still trying to recover, according to park officials. Visitors are encouraged to be mindful of new growth and stay on the trails.

Withers and Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation officials conducted three community workshops over the summer to gather public feedback on the nature center replacement planning project.

The final conceptual design was presented at the last workshop, on Aug. 27, at the park.

Community members asked for features such as animal exhibits, children’s spaces, more seating and viewing spaces and an accessible interpretive trail, according to Withers.

They asked for telescopes, shade structures, bigger wildlife exhibits and educational and interactive displays. They also wanted a natural and low-key, fire-resistant structure and one that blends in with the environment.

County officials sought to include animal exhibits, a workshop with tools to make repairs, educational and interactive displays as well as shade structures, classrooms and theater space.

The architecture of the proposed nature center would be inset into the landscape within the footprint of already altered areas of the site, along with the inclusion of a covered exterior courtyard, according to Withers.

“By grouping and sinking the buildings into the earth, the roof of the facility now becomes a usable lookout platform and/or green roof, to experience the view of the Devil’s Punchbowl site in a new and different way,” Withers wrote in response to questions submitted by the Antelope Valley Press.

The proposed new nature center would be built in the space between the parking lot and the rim, including the location of the ranger station. At approximately 3,000 square feet, the proposed center would host a 1,000 square-foot administration building and a 2,000-square-foot nature center building.

The design includes a  circular accessible path to the south connects that connects the parking area to the nature center and invites visitors to explore what lies beyond this path and what lies within it, the architecture gently emerges from its surroundings as one travels down the path, covered with native vegetation, Wither wrote.

She added that the “proposed plantings will begin to blend into the adjacent native landscape and over time will imbed the architecture seamlessly into the site. Important existing native vegetation will be protected and the proposed buildings are designed around the trees and shrubs that survived the fire.”

It is too soon to say how much the proposed nature center replacement will cost to build. The county will hire a professional cost estimator to provide a cost estimate for construction of the facility, according to LA County park planner Clement Lau.

“The County will pursue a variety of options, including grants and other funding sources, to pay for the construction of the facility,” Lau wrote in an email.

The County is working on the conceptual design work and associated environmental compliance documents to “create a viable, appropriately-sized, and programmed project to replace the previous nature center and other related improvements that were destroyed in the Bobcat Fire,” Lau wrote.

This work is being funded through a grant in the amount of $540,000 from the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, Lau wrote.

“Funding for the actual construction of the new nature center will need to be secured,” he wrote. “Having the conceptual design and CEQA document done will make the project more attractive to potential funders and more ready for implementation.”