We say it all the time. Los Cerritos Wetlands should be and is a community resource for all of Long Beach to enjoy, not just those who live near the wetlands. Well, that sure was true this summer as the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust led tours of the wetlands for kids from neighborhoods near Drake, Martin Luther King and Admiral Kidd Parks.
Our chance to get to know these great kids and take them and their families on an educational nature hike was enabled by a program called Summer Night Lights. Summer Night Lights is a parks-centered program for people, especially youth, who live in the more urban areas of Long Beach. This program enables residents to come together and enjoy their local parks during warm summer evenings. Too often, especially after dark, parks become the territory of gangs which puts urban youth at risk. Summer Night Lights helps communities gain back use of their parks, especially on Friday nights when there are fun, family-oriented things to do there, like art projects, sports games, and other youth-centered activities. The Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust (with help from our partners Tidal Influence and funding from our friends at Boeing) went one step further and took kids and their parents from these parks out to our wetlands for special tours.
Access to the natural world and natural open space can be hard to find for those of us who live in Southern California. But for folks who live in the more urban parts of Long Beach that access might be even more difficult. That's why our evening walks through the Hellman portion of the Los Cerritos Wetlands were special and, most importantly, really fun. The kids had a great time figuring out how to use binoculars to spot birds, learning about the native people who used to live on this land, and getting to see close up some of the wildlife that call our local wetlands home.
A highlight for the kids was the appearance of a grizzly bear! Just kidding; it was naturalist Pete Stearns dressed up in the skin of a grizzly bear. The kids learned that grizzly bears once roamed our local wetlands and dined on steelhead trout from the San Gabriel River.