Things are looking up for desert rats and other field researchers. After extensive renovations, the NRS’s Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center has reopened its doors to classes and researchers studying the lower Colorado Desert.
“We are thrilled with the outcome of the building projects and anticipate that great things will come from this collaboration between UC Irvine, the NRS, California State Parks and the Anza-Borrego Foundation,” says reserve manager Jim Dice.
Two rounds of construction have transformed the former country club into a working field station. The facility is now able to provide accommodations to dozens of students and researchers, as well as provide space for public lectures and conferences.
The reserve joined the UC Natural Reserve System in 2011. Philanthropist Audrey Steele Burnand provided for the purchase of the former Desert Club building, initial renovations to the structure, and an endowment for the reserve.
The reserve welcomed its first visitors in April 2012 with roughly 5,600 square feet of space, then closed again for construction in October 2013. Over the past year, Dice says, “our square footage nearly doubled.” The project was funded by Proposition 84 plus additional support from reserve donor Steele Burnand.
The main building consists of a great room that includes the country club’s original bar; offices for reserve staff as well as the Anza-Borrego Foundation, the non-profit cooperating organization for adjacent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park; a conference room; and a communal kitchen.
A set of new buildings is placed at an angle to the original structure to form an internal courtyard. The new wing includes dormitory rooms, private rooms, working and teaching space, and covered parking. The four dorm rooms each sleep six in bunk beds, an ideal setup for visiting classes. Four apartments with private baths are designed for faculty or longer-term researchers. The laboratory and classrooms offer flexible spaces for group work. Additional renovations included upgrades to communal bathrooms and the installation of a common room, laundry facilities, and lockers.
The former pool of the country club now serves as an outdoor patio gathering space shaded by colorful fabric wings. A couple of dozen cots are available for visitors who wish to enjoy the fresh desert air as they slumber outside.
“Already this past month we have hosted classes in biology and geology from UC Irvine and Colorado College, along with researchers from as far away as Cornell and Rutgers,” reserve manager Dice says. Classes from other universities have already booked to stay this fall.
The reserve is expected to become a locus for a number of UC-led environmental programs, most of which are carried out in partnership with Borrego Springs, the community surrounding the reserve. So far these include the Salton Sea Initiative, which aims to bring the scientific, planning, and engineering expertise of UC Irvine to bear on the environmental problems of this evaporating inland body of water; and the Water UC Irvine Initiative, which will examine sustainability of groundwater use in Borrego Springs. UC Irvine professors Timothy Bradley and Travis Huxman, who also serves as faculty director of the reserve, have been instrumental in bringing these projects to area. Huxman has also helped establish a council of Borrego Springs community organizations to tackle other challenges in the region.
Another long-term project at the reserve will be facilitated by a set of nearby climate monitoring stations. A grant from the National Science Foundation will enable the reserve to install eight stations along Montezuma Grade, the highway route leading from the Montezuma Hills into the town of Borrego Springs. The stations span an elevational gradient that shifts from oak and pine woodland at the top of the grade to ocotillo and cactus on the desert floor–all within 15 minutes of driving. The data will be housed online and freely available to augment studies of how climate change will affect the desert.
Desert studies conferences are also expected to flock to the reserve. Already the 2014 Colorado Desert Natural History Research Symposium, co-hosted by UC Irvine and the Anza-Borrego Foundation, will be held at the reserve Nov. 7-9, in addition to a meeting of the Desert Bighorn Council in spring.
The Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center honors reserve donor Steele Burnand’s parents, Harry and Grace Steele, along with her father-in-law, A.A. Burnand Jr., who commissioned the original Desert Club building. Steele Burnand credits all three for giving her a love of the southern California desert.