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Progress on Kernville environmental education park delayed by storm damage

Kern River Conservancy Executive Director Gary Ananian says the park, which had been scheduled to open in June, will be delayed until at least the fall as the site is cleared of flood debris.
location of future kernville environmental education park
Posted at 4:56 PM, Apr 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-18 11:51:21-04

KERNVILLE, Calif. (KERO) — "Is this the Kern River or the Kern Sea?"

Gary Ananian, the founder and executive director of the Kern River Conservancy, has had his plans for Kern County's first environmental education park washed down the timeline by this year's winter storms.

"It was just unbelievable how much water was coming down and the force of the water," said Ananian. "We were just sitting there listening to the car size boulders just grinding down. It was insane.

Storm damage in Kernville has delayed plans for the park, and the conservancy is hoping the community will help them get those plans back on track as soon as possible.

Gary Ananian
Gary Ananian, Executive Director, Kern River Conservancy

Ananian, who is a Kernville resident, has been thinking about how to use the piece of land by the river for years. Before the storms came through, he remembers what the piece of land used to look like.

"This is a dirt road that goes all the way in, and that was a large, grassy meadow," said Ananian.

That description is not the case anymore, and even residents are shocked at the extent of the damage.

Michelle Vertrees walks her dogs through the area often.

"Nice and smooth, and there was some great trails here, and yeah, this is pretty bad," said Vertrees.

michelle vertrees
Michelle Vertrees, Kernville resident

Bad enough that Vertrees says she's had to turn around because the trail was unwalkable.

Before the storms hit, Ananian had secured a $25,000 grant to make the environmental education park a reality. The park was scheduled to open in June and would include a three-quarter mile nature walk, botanical gardens, an amphitheater for teachers to host classes here, and signs with QR code links to educational environmental videos.

Ananian says the park was supposed to require very minimal work since the conservancy didn't need to do any heavy construction, but now that the plans have changed, the timeline is delayed.

"This is a large project now. We need to raise $15,000 to $20,000 dollars. We need to hire contractors. We need heavy equipment to come in and remove debris that is, like, 10 feet tall," said Ananian.

If the Kern River Conservancy can raise the money needed, they hope to have the park done in the last couple of months of the year, but the clock is also ticking to get the work done before wildfire season.

Ashlie Whitaker kern river conservancy
Ashlie Whitaker, Communications Coordinator, Kern River Conservancy

"When it's, like, 100 degrees out here, everything is going to be a tinder box. It is going to be a huge fire hazard," said Ananian.

That's why, according to Communications Coordinator Ashlie Whitaker, the Kern River Conservancy is putting together several volunteer events and donation opportunities during GiveBigKern on May 2.

"It's the first chance we've really gotten to kind of assess the situation and get people down here, and then we'll just continue with that momentum, and like we said, with the GiveBigKern effort hopefully we'll be able to raise enough to get this place looking beautiful again," said Whitaker.

One of those volunteer events is coming up this Saturday, April 22, to coincide with Earth Day. The event is open to volunteers of all ages, and starts at 9:30 am. If you can't make it to the volunteer events but would still like to help, you can visit the Kern River Conservancy's website to make a financial donation.

michelle ventrees walking dogs
Kernville resident Michelle Ventrees walks her dogs through the park at Kernville regularly and says the recent storms left quite a mess behind.