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Outdoor classroom takes flight

originally posted by The San Diego Union-Tribune
October 23, 2013

Schoolchildren and nature lovers will have a new way to appreciate local wildlife next spring, when an 80-seat amphitheater overlooking the San Dieguito River Valley near Del Mar is expected to open.

A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for this morning with representatives of the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy, the San Dieguito River Park and students from Ocean Air Elementary School who will exchange electronic equipment for native-plant seeds that they will scatter on the site.

Andy Spurlock of Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects, which designed the $500,000 project with Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects, said the classroom is the first of several projects that may be built along the river valley.

The five-acre site is slated to include large boulders taken from throughout the county and coastal sage scrub that will be planted from local hydroseeds. San Dieguito River Park rangers will add native plants from their nursery.

“There’s so much interest in the lagoon and lessons we can learn there,” said San Dieguito River Park deputy director Susan Carter.

An interpretive ranger already runs educational programs for the Boys & Girls Club, schools and other groups, and the new amphitheater is meant to provide a place for those lessons, Carter said.

“A variety of things are always going on, but there’s no place for them to congregate and sit and listen,” she said. “With this new venue, it will make life much easier for the kids to listen and learn.”

Spurlock said the overhang will be supported by four columns and made of rust-colored Cor-Ten steel that will be woven through beams to create the wing’s texture. From Via de la Valle looking down at the amphitheater, the wing will appear to float above the sage scrub, he said.

Spurlock Poirier Landscape Architects designed the concept for the 55-mile open space corridor that runs from Del Mar to the Cuyamaca Mountains. The plan calls for a facility at each of the seven reaches of the river. Those reaches are the San Dieguito Lagoon in Del Mar, the coastal plains through Rancho Santa Fe, the inland hills at Lake Hodges, the San Pasqual Valley, the foothills near Southerland Dam east of Escondido, Santa Ysabel and the Cuyamaca Mountains.

Carter said the San Dieguito River Valley Conservancy has built some projects, including a gateway designed by James Hubbell at the east end of the river valley, pedestrian bridges over Lake Hodges and the Del Dios Gorge and a viewing platform at the gorge.

The open-air classroom will be the first of its kind in the river valley. A ranger station and a lagoon center also are planned near the classroom, Carter said.

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