Monday, June 18 , 2018, 7:41 am | Fair 55º


Local News

Visitor Center Opens at Santa Cruz Island’s Scorpion Ranch

Gherini family homestead is transformed with an array of historic artifacts, island information and interpretive exhibits

For years, visitors to Santa Cruz Island have been met by a National Park Service ranger, given an orientation on the southeast region of the island and an explanation of park regulations, and then were left on their own to experience the largest island off the coast of California.

On Monday, however, the NPS unveiled its new and impressive Scorpion Ranch Visitor Center at the historic Scorpion Ranch House, a large masonry building constructed in 1886 that served as a dining area, kitchen and dormitory for the ranch hands. Two of those rooms are now filled with a throng of exhibits. Now visitors can get more detailed information about the mountainous, 96-square-mile island and the most biodiverse of California’s eight Channel Islands.

Santa Cruz Island’s topography supports habitats for approximately 60 plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. It would take a lifetime to explore its rugged mountain ranges, deep canyons with year-round springs, craggy coastlines, lonely beaches and pristine tide pools.

“Creation of a visitor center at Scorpion Ranch provides a much needed, convenient facility to orient visitors to Santa Cruz Island,” said Channel Islands National Park Superintendent Russell Galipeau. “They will learn about the island’s tremendous biodiversity and rich cultural history, as well as current resource issues.”

An orientation kiosk awaits visitors with information panels and a topographic relief map to acquaint themselves with the island. Featured are the abundant recreational opportunities and safety tips for camping, hiking, diving and kayaking, and minimizing impacts on the unique flora and fauna of Santa Cruz. The interpretive project took four years to complete.

After the kiosk is the historic blacksmith shop, its insides adorned with the tools of the trade. Self sufficiency was an important element during the ranching era and a blacksmith shop was essential to its success.

Scorpion Ranch and its anchorage.
Scorpion Ranch and its anchorage. (Chuck Graham photo)

Monday’s dedication began with a Chumash ceremony led by Julie Tumamait, a Chumash elder. They sang songs and blessed the new addition in Channel Islands National Park. The Channel Islands were once the ancestral home of the Chumash. Santa Cruz Island is known as Limuw in the Chumash dialect and Scorpion Anchorage was once the largest Chumash village known as Swaxil. One of the most important exhibits uses large photo murals to illustrate the seafaring culture of the Chumash, Limuw being the birthplace legend of these Native Americans.

“Hopefully people will learn to walk as softly as you have all these years,” Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, said in referring to the Chumash.

Audio video features include everything from the turbulent geologic origins of the rugged archipelago to intimate first-person accounts of island ranching, historic sheep shearing, and restoration of natural resources involving the island fox, return of bald eagles, the eradication of feral pigs and golden eagles, and the recovery of native plants.

Santa Barbara attorney John Gherini, whose family ranched on the island for years, donated artifacts, historic photographs and other items in the ranch kitchen, which contains the island’s original stove and cabinets. Gherini was instrumental in planning the exhibits. Through a replica of the island phone system, he shares family stories of spending summers working the island ranch, building fences, herding thousands of sheep and sacking wool.

Scorpion Ranch's blacksmith shop was a center of activity during Santa Cruz Island's ranching era.
Scorpion Ranch’s blacksmith shop was a center of activity during Santa Cruz Island’s ranching era. (Chuck Graham photo)

“This is truly a natural treasure,” said Gherini, whose family owned the eastern 6,264 acres of Santa Cruz before it became a national park. “This is a dream come true, a great day for the Channel Islands National Park.”

The $492,000 visitor center and its array of exhibits were made possible through recreational fees collected at national park sites and designated by Congress to be used to improve public facilities in the parks system. The exhibits were designed by AldrichPears Associates, a design firm in Vancouver, British Columbia, and fabricated and installed by Exhibitology of Paterson, N.J.

“We take great pride in preserving the natural and cultural heritage on the islands,” Galipeau said.

— Local freelance writer Chuck Graham is editor of Deep magazine.

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