Anza-Borrego reserve receives major endowment gift

by Kathleen Wong, UC Natural Reserve System

endowment gift
A gift from philanthropist Audrey Steele Burnand will enlarge the endowment of Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center, seen here under the arch of a rainbow. Image: Sicco Rood

The estate of philanthropist Audrey Steele Burnand has gifted $2.631 million to the NRS’s Steele/Burnand Anza-Borrego Desert Research Center in Borrego Springs. The funds will expand the endowment to support the center.  

“A lot of reserves don’t have an endowment and scramble for funding. We’re very fortunate to have her gift,” Dice says.

Interest from the endowment will provide financial stability for the staffing, operations, and maintenance of the center. The endowment’s proceeds will also enable UC Irvine, which manages the reserve, to keep user fees affordable for visitors, which range from K-12 classes to community college students to university-level researchers.

The gift is part of a $57.75 overall donation to UC Irvine, which manages the reserve. The majority of the donation will establish the Noel Drury M.D. Depression Research Center, which will pursue research into the causes and treatment of depression.

endowment gift
The reserve is popular among classes and researchers, who can stay inexpensively and utilize the center’s labs and classrooms. Image: Elaine Tulving

A previous gift from Steele Burnand enabled the establishment of the reserve in 2011. Half the donation was used to purchase the former Borrego Desert Club, which was commissioned by her father. The remainder established an endowment used for some staff salaries and occasional facility projects. Steele Burnand also enabled the reserve to complete smaller reserve improvement projects in subsequent years.

The 78-acre reserve provides research and environmental engagement opportunities for students, scientists, and the community of Borrego Springs. Since it opened in April 2012, the reserve has provided lodging, meeting space, and classroom/lab space for researchers and classes from 140 different institutions and organizations around the world, including 27 California universities, 41 other U.S. universities, and 14 different international universities.

Scientists studying subjects from paleontology to botany use reserve facilities while conducting research both on the reserve and in adjacent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

endowment gift
The center enables visitors to study the ecosystems of the Sonoran Desert both on reserve lands and in adjacent Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Image: Sicco Rood

The bequest from Steele Burnand, who died on June 27, 2020 at the age of 98, was one of many examples of her lifelong generosity toward the town of Borrego Springs and beyond. Even after her initial donation to the research center, she continued to take an interest in the site. In 2014, she funded additional exterior improvements during a major expansion funded by state Proposition 84.

In addition to supporting local organizations such as the Borrego Springs Little League, Steele Burnand and her family made major donations to universities such as Cal Tech and Mills College.

The name of the reserve honors Steele Burnand’s family. “She said her parents introduced her to the desert. And her husband’s father, A. A. Burnand, Jr., did most of the development in Borrego Springs, including the research center when it opened in 1950,” says Dice.

Related stories

Audrey Steele Burnand estate gifts $57.75 million to UCI, UC Irvine

UCI gets $55 million to create center focused on depression research, The Orange County Register

Buildout reshapes social club into premier desert science center, UC Natural Reserve System

Colorado Desert site joins UC Natural Reserve System, UC Natural Reserve System

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