NIPOMO, Calif. - With the quick turn of a few shovels, construction at the DANA Cultural Center in Nipomo officially began Wednesday morning. The groundbreaking ceremony, which was attended by community members and local dignitaries, was an event several years in the making.
"This is a milestone in our history and also the history of Nipomo," said DANA Cultural Center Executive Director Marina Washburn. "We've been working on this for the last 16 years or so, for the organization to develop Rancho Nipomo and it's finally happening!"
The dream to create the educational center began when the nonprofit organization, which was originally called the Dana Adobe Nipomo Amigos, was created in 1999.
"It's been a community effort," said board member Alan Daurio. "We've had foundations supporting us. We've had local service clubs like the Lions and Rotary. We've had our own volunteers, our docents, we've had hard work by boards going back to when the organization was founded."
Tireless fundraising by community members, as well as state grant money is funding the $10 million expansion project.
"We're going to develop a nature education facility, that's also classroom space and outdoor amphitheater, a barn, over a mile of interpretive walking trails and access to 130 acres into this beautiful view shed," said Washburn.
When completed, it will attract thousands of visitors annually interested in connecting with the fascinating past of the California's rancho era. Projections target about 15,000 visitors each year, about three times the amount which now enjoy the property.
"It's one of a kind," said Daurio. "We're a California landmark with a protected view shed. There's thousands of acres that haven't been developed out here around the adobe, a 130 of them we protect and preserve, and now we're also connecting people with nature, to our natural and cultural resources."
A main component of the center right now is to educate local students about the history of the rancho era, as well as the Chumash heritage. That will not only continue, it will be enhanced. The new features will allow the center to accomodate more than triple the amount of students who now visit the center annually, providing them with an important hands-on learning experience.
"It will link their history, or their knowledge that they're learning," said superintendent Raynee Daley, Lucia Mar Unified School District. "They can come out here and walk through the new facility and walk down to the adobe and actually experience in real life what they're heritage is as being part of this experience."
Daley emphasizes the ability to teach students through a hands-on experience is invaluable to their education.
"Statistically, kids that are able to engage with a hands-on way, they learn at a different level," said Daley. "It's not just memorization, but it's experiential and it's a key feature in them being able to then apply that learning to future experiences."
The DANA Cultural Center will be utilized, as it is now, by students in the surrounding area, including those in both San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties.
Tourists of all ages, though, will get to enjoy the property that will likely draw many who are interested in the emerging trend of "eco-tourism," and "heritage tourism."
"We know that San Luis Obispo is a major tourist attraction and we hope to be one of those attractions, different in the sense in that it's eco-tourism, a re-connection of people with the land and it's also history," said Daurio. "Any one in California can claim this site as part of their heritage as well and we want to preserve all of that for the future generations that will come to visit."
Construction on the property, located just south of the adobe is already underway. The goal for completion is by June 2017.
The DANA Cultural Center has a fundraiser planned for this Saturday, Aug. 27. A concert by "Unfinished Business" will be held starting at 5:00 p.m. Gates open at 4:00 p.m. Proceeds benefit more community programming to the cultural center.
For more information, go to: www.danaadobe.org