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By Jamie Brinkman, photos by Bram Norman
The San Onofre Parks Foundation is a non-profit, charitable foundation created to protect and preserve the beaches along our coastline known as San Onofre, San Clemente State Beach and the San Mateo Campground. While endeavoring to create the best park experience for the millions of visitors each year, the foundation also strives to educate the public about the rich culture and natural history of the area.
Created by Steve Long (father to big wave surfer Greg Long), it is now run by a board made up entirely of volunteers. Barry Berg, former creative director for Surfing Magazine, is now the president of the foundation and says that his efforts are led by “passion” and that this is his way “ to give back” to his home town that has given him so much.
The San Onofre Parks Foundation ensures two things: one, that there is a group responsible for looking out for the health and safety of our beaches and two, that there are programs in place to help educate people about how to protect and preserve our beaches. The foundation does this through improvement projects and educational programs, which include beach clean ups, summer lecture series, camp outs, butterfly habitat stewardship, scholarship programs and cultural events.
Because of the unique cobblestone reef that lies at the bottom of the water at Trestles, it is one of the best year-round surf breaks in the world, and in turn draws over two million people each year. So to help engage the public and transform traditional park users into park stewards, the San Onofre Parks Foundation provides many lecture series that take place at the Historic Cottage located at the San Clemente Beach Campground. The Historic Cottage serves as both a museum of the natural history for the area as well as a center for the lecture series. Distinctive and renowned speakers have lectured on a variety of subjects ranging from surf science and coastal presence, to the endangerment of specific indigenous species such as the great white shark and the Pacific Pocket Mouse. This summer the lecture series will include education about a local research study on mountain lions in southern California, given by UC Davis veterinarian Winston Vickers, and a lecture on riding big waves, by San Clemente’s own big wave rider, Greg Long.
Because the state is unable to fully fund and support the protection of the coastlines, the doggie bags you find along park trails for picking up after your dog are provided by the San Onofre Parks Foundation. Each year, thousands of dollars go towards supplying these waste bags for dog owners visiting our state parks. To help cover the cost, the foundation created a fundraising event called Woofstock. Each year, this event combines fun activities such as a dog and human costume contest and a dog parade to raise funds and awareness about the impact of dogs on the environment. In addition to this event, the foundation also hosts cultural events such as the Panhe Celebration, which is an annual celebration of the Native American history, held at the San Mateo Campground. It serves to educate people about the life, heritage, and culture of the Acjachemen tribe, who lived where the San Mateo Campground sits now approximately nine thousand years ago. The village of Panhe, as it was called, is where the tribe erected dwellings, cultivated crops and constructed sacred burial grounds. This event offers authentic Native American activities such as flute playing, dancing, and storytelling.
“We want people to feel like guests at an actual Indian Event. We invite several tribes from around southern California to participate,” says Berg, president of the foundation.
The San Onofre Parks Foundation also hosts many programs for children, including hikes and campouts that are not only fun, but promote their mission. This year, the foundation is also offering two lucky San Clemente High school seniors, a $1,000 scholarship in environmental studies, to encourage and reward students for environmental excellence through education and volunteerism.
In the years to come, the foundation hopes not only to maintain the natural richness of our stretch of coast, but to improve it for future generations and asks all of us to do the same.