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CIVR Blog: Volunteering on Catalina Island

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Removing non-native plants is a key element in preserving the island's native ecology

Removing non-native plants is a key element in preserving the island’s native ecology, volunteers learn more about efforts to preserve native plants during Mornings at the Nursery.

Catalina Island offers a wealth of experiences and adventures that take a lifetime to completely explore. While Avalon’s quaint charms, intriguing shops and picturesque waterfront appeal to nearly every traveler, the interior of the island offers a wellspring of natural beauty, including spectacular seascapes, dramatic terrain and flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth.

Seeing the interior of the island should be part of every Catalina Island vacation, but many island visitors never explore beyond the tiny town of Avalon, California. Several tours take visitors to the interior – ranging from bus tours to high-adventure off-road expeditions. Guided hiking trips, kayaking adventures and more are also available.

One great way to see the interior and help preserve Catalina Island at the same time is by joining the Catalina Island Conservancy on one of their volunteer expeditions. Every Thursday, Mornings at the Nursery offers transportation to the interior and the chance to learn more about Catalina Island’s unique flora. The trip leaves at 7:15 am and volunteers spend several hours at the James H. Ackerman Native Plant Nursery before returning to Avalon around noon. Advance notice is necessary, call the Conservancy at (310) 510-2595, ext. 12.

CIVR Blog: Avalon Rubber Ducky Derby

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Photo credit: http://shire2011.blogspot.com

Photo credit: http://shire2011.blogspot.com

Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island is home to a wide array of creatures. Bat rays and spider crabs hunt the bottom; calico bass and opal eye cruise placidly and schools of bait fish occasionally churn the water. Gulls bob at the surface, greedy for a tossed French fry, while sea lions frolic and forage. Catalina Island’s human residents and visitors have their own impact, with vessels large and small plying the harbor and children and adults alike playing on the beach.

While most of the sights in Avalon Harbor are an everyday occurrence, once a year a unique flock of invaders takes over the harbor. On Sunday, April 12, hundreds of bright yellow rubber duckies will be dumped into Avalon Harbor on Catalina Island, to race valiantly toward the shore. Frequently helped by the Avalon Harbor Department and their trusty firehoses, the duckies will battle ferociously as they bob to the finish line. The Avalon Rubber Ducky Derby is a fundraiser for the local children’s theater troupe, Kids at Play, and also includes a corporate race and decorated duck competition. Adopting a duck – or a flock of ducks – is open to residents and visitors alike and includes the satisfaction of supporting a good cause as well as the thrill of cheering your duck to the finish. The fun all starts at noon on Avalon’s South Beach.

CIVR Blog: Hollywood stars on catalina

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The Catalina Island Museum will soon be moving from the Casino Building

The Catalina Island Museum will soon be moving from the Casino Building

With its enviable location just 20-odd miles off the Southern California coast, Catalina Island has long been both backlot and playground for Hollywood. The island has been stand-in for dozens of locations – from the South Seas to the eastern seaboard, from tropical paradise to quaint small town. Every once in awhile, the island even gets to play itself.

Location scouts haven’t been the only ones who’ve had a Hollywood love affair with Catalina Island. The island’s proximity to work and home have made it a perfect getaway for the stars for generations. Many Hollywood stars continue to getaway to Catalina, appreciating both the island’s charms and the nonchalant way they can expect to be treated, but it was during Hollywood’s golden era that Catalina really earned its reputation as a getaway for Hollywood’s elite. Charlie Chapman, Johnny Weissmuller and John Wayne were regular visitors, as were Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn and many more. Marilyn Monroe lived on the island for a time, back when she was Norma Jean Dougherty.

Hollywood’s love affair with Catalina Island is the subject of the Catalina Island Museum’s current exhibition, Escape to Catalina: Hollywood’s Biggest Stars on Catalina Island, which is currently on display. This exhibit is the last for the museum’s historic location in the Casino Building – in the summer of 2015, the new Ada Blanche Wrigley Schreiner Building will open on Metropole Avenue.

The Catalina Island Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the ground floor of the Catalina Casino. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and free for everyone 15 and younger. Annual memberships are available at a variety of levels.

CIVR Blog: Catalina island wildflowers

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Catalina wildflowers

While Catalina Island’s mild winter storms have not provided enough water to end the island’s drought, they have been successful in nourishing some of the island’s more colorful residents. Wildflower season is in full swing on the island and a rainbow of blooms has erupted.

The red and yellow of introduced geraniums and broom are readily visible from Avalon, but discovering the full breadth of the Catalina Island wildflower season can only be done by exploring further afield in the island’s interior. Intrepid explorers will find shooting stars and blue dicks, California poppies and blue larkspur along with lupine and monkey flower and much more.

The Catalina Airport in the Sky is a great start for a wildflower hike, as is Little Harbor, on the island’s windward side. The Catalina Conservancy offers the Wildlands Shuttle for transportation to the interior – don’t forget your hiking permit. Several tour companies also offer interior tours and the Conservancy’s Jeep Eco-Tours are a popular way to explore the interior, learn more about the island’s ecology and support the conservation of the island at the same time. If getting to the interior is not an option on your next spring Catalina trip but you would still like to explore Catalina’s wildflowers, visit Avalon’s Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Spring Fest

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Catalina Spring Fest

Catalina Spring Fest

Celebrating spring comes in many different forms. Warmer waters, green hillsides and emerging wildflowers are just a few of the ways Mother Nature celebrates spring. On Catalina, spring also means busier days, more visitors and more fun.  Avalon, Catalina Island’s only city, celebrates spring with a community-wide festival.

Organized by the City of Avalon’s Recreation Department, Catalina Spring Fest invites local organizations to set up along Crescent Avenue from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 23. Those organizations provide food and fun – while doing a bit of fund raising for their cause. Carnival-style games, live music and more will provide fun for the whole family.

Avalon’s picturesque waterfront and long twilight provide the perfect backdrop for Spring Fest, which brings together locals and visitors alike. The evening’s many food vendors will offer snacks, meals and desserts – or take a break from the fun at an Avalon restaurant. Strolling among the booths gives visitors an entertaining insight into many of the community organizations the support the town and its residents.

This year, Springfest will also include Earth Day celebrations and local environmental organizations will have information about how you can reduce your impact on the earth.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Conservancy Ball

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The Catalina Island Conservancy Ball will help support efforts to the protect the Catalina Island fox. Photo by Jack Baldelli, Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

The Catalina Island Conservancy Ball will help support efforts to the protect the Catalina Island fox. Photo by Jack Baldelli, Courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy.

Catalina Island’s unspoiled natural beauty has intrigued generations – and thanks to the Catalina Conservancy, it will continue to offer a respite from the unbridled development on the mainland. Charged with preserving the island in its natural state in perpetuity, the Catalina Conservancy is responsible for nearly 90 percent of the island.

Supported by grants and donations, the non-profit Conservancy is also the beneficiary of the one of the most elegant events on the island. Each year, the Catalina Conservancy Ball fills the Casino Ballroom with tuxedoes and ball gowns for a gala event that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars. This year marks the 20th Catalina Conservancy Ball and organizers are celebrating with an emerald theme and a tagline of Leaping Lizards.

With more than $4.5 million raised over the last two decades, the Conservancy Ball is one of the organization’s most important events. The first ball was co-hosted by the Corsair Yacht Club, and this year the club will reprise its role. The evening will include dinner and dancing as well as a silent and live auction. The fun begins at 6 p.m. on April 11. Invitations may be requested here.

CIVR Blog: Catalina off season

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Visitors to Catalina Island in the off-season discover a unique destination

Visitors to Catalina Island in the off-season discover a unique destination

When the Banning Brothers first began developing Catalina Island as a tourist destination back in the early 19th century, Avalon was seen as a seasonal destination. For generations, visiting Catalina was something that was only done in the summer months. From Labor Day until Memorial Day, the island’s visitor services were minimal – the joke was that “would the last person to leave the island after Labor Day please turn off the lights?” Restaurants closed their doors, busses stopped running and tour boats were hauled from the water.

These days, visiting the island is something that happens 12 months of the year. Hours may change, but restaurants stay open nearly year-round and – while not every activity is available as readily in February as it is in July – there’s still plenty to do 365 days of the year.

What most off-season visitors discover is that discovering Catalina off season gives them an entirely new perspective on this Southern California destination. While they may trade expansive hours, what they get in return is hillsides greened by rain, uncrowded activities and a destination that welcomes them with enthusiasm. Thanks to Southern California’s normally mild temperatures, they can also expect mild winters and sunny skies.

CIVR Blog: Wrigley Botanic Garden

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Exploring at the Wrigley Botanic Garden

Exploring at the Wrigley Botanic Garden

Thanks to the 20 or so miles separately Catalina Island from the rest of Southern California, flora and fauna have had a chance to evolve separately, creating unique species found nowhere else on earth. One of the most charismatic of these island natives is the Catalina Island fox, a diminutive cousin to grey foxes that is a subspecies found only on Santa Catalina.

While the Catalina Island fox may steal the spotlight, Catalina is also home to a number of additional endemic species. Catalina Island Mountain Mahogany, Catalina Ironwood and St. Catherine’s Lace are just a few of the plant species found nowhere else on earth.

One of the best places to learn more about Catalina’s native plant life is at the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden, located at the top of Avalon Canyon Road. A 30-minute walk from town, the garden is a 37-acre showcase of California island endemic plants, as well as succulents and other desert plants. The garden was originally planted at the direction of Ada Wrigley, wife of William Wrigley, Jr. She had desert plants brought from around the world to create the original garden in 1935. More than 30 years later, the garden was revitalized and expanded and plants from all of the Channel Islands were planted.

The garden is open daily and can be reached by trolley, golf cart or on foot.

CIVR Blog: Catalina Art

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The Catalina Art Gallery recently opened.

The Catalina Art Gallery recently opened.

Surrounded by the sea and the blessed by an abundance of natural beauty, Santa Catalina Island has been a muse for artists for thousands of years. Native islanders carved totems, plein air artists captured natural vistas and photographers pushed the digital envelope thanks to the inspiration of Catalina.

For more than half a century, one organization has worked to bring artists living on and inspired by Santa Catalina together. The Catalina Art Association, best known for organizing the Catalina Art Festival, also works year round to promote art, support artists and contribute to art education. The Catalina Art Festival, held each year in September, brings thousands of art aficionados to the island and in April, the Catalina Art Fair and Exhibition is becoming another must-do art event on Catalina Island.

In January, CAA took another big step in promoting art on Catalina Island by opening the Catalina Art Gallery. Made possible through the collaboration of USBank of Avalon, the new gallery space showcases a variety of local artists, creating in a variety of mediums. Local artists show up to four items each and also volunteer as docents. The Catalina Art Gallery is located in the foyer of USBank on Crescent Avenue.

CIVR Blog: Avalon Underwater Cleanup

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Photo courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy

Photo courtesy Catalina Island Conservancy

Each February for more than three decades, hundreds of scuba divers plunge beneath the surface of Avalon Harbor to collect trash, debris – and a few treasures. The Avalon Harbor Underwater Cleanup is the only time of the year that recreational scuba divers are allowed in Avalon Harbor. The day-long event clears tons of bottles, cans, plastic and more from Catalina Island’s waters.

In addition to raising funds and clearing trash, the Avalon Harbor Underwater Clean-up also offers divers and non-divers alike an entertaining  day of treasure seeking. Hundreds of pairs of sunglasses have been retrieved as have hundreds of cellphones. Clean-up divers have also discovered jewelry, clothing, dinnerware and much more. Each year, prizes are given for some of the unique items discovered in the bay.

Proceeds from the event benefit the Catalina Conservancy’s Robert E. Given Fund for Ocean Conservation and Educational Research and the USC Hyperbaric Chamber. This year’s event is scheduled for Feb. 21. Diving will begin at 9:30 a.m. and all divers must be out of the water no later than 11 a.m. Registration is $50 per diver. For more information call the Catalina Island Conservancy at 310-510-2595 or visit the event website.