Back Bay’s Gem Hidden by Design

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So, you are driving along Irvine Avenue and you see the Back Bay.

Better yet, you are walking, hiking, biking or jogging along the Back Bay paths.

Anyway, when you hit University Drive, there is a natural parking lot.  As you head towards the water, magnificence is revealed.  Ever wonder what is there?

Maybe you know the secret of the Upper Newport Bay: the Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center, great for you and your family.  If not, please know that there is a must-see local hidden gem here.  The Interpretive Center is in a nature preserve and conservation and the preservation of the site’s natural beauty are at the forefront of its design.

When my wife and I had our first of two girls, now 6 and 5, I remember some of the wisdom shared.  I was encouraged to find something Drew Ellen and now Kathryne Grace enjoys, and to figure out a way to do it with them for life.

I am a lucky man, and with a little green luck, one of our things is to go on adventures, as we call them.  With a little water, some snacks and a whole lot of imagination, we head out.  We like to pick up the trail head off Santiago (just in from Irvine Avenue), and hike over to the Interpretive Center.  Sometimes the high road, sometimes the low road, and to steal from the relevant Robert Frost, two roads diverged in the Back Bay, and we – we took them both, and that has made all the difference.

The OC Parks website says it best: “The Interpretive Center’s unique earth sheltered architecture keeps it hidden from view at street level, while simultaneously creating a feast for the eye once visitors reach the main entrance.”

The Mission Statement for the new Upper Newport Bay – Peter and Mary Muth Interpretive Center best summarizes its commitment to the community: “To promote and support the protection and preservation of California Coastal Wetlands through environmental education.”

The Interpretive Center, part of the OC Parks system (, is celebrating its 10-year anniversary with an event on Oct 16.  In the 1960s, Fran and Frank Robinson provided the energy to save Newport Bay from development.  In a using-green-to-help-green act, Peter and Mary Muth cut the big check to make possible the Interpretive Center that bears their name.

The Interpretive Center is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday.  Admission is free.

The building is primarily an exhibit space, some hands-on learning space and an outdoor amphitheater for lectures and programs.  Some sustainable building elements are found in the rebar, recycled from 2,400 pounds of confiscated firearms and 362,400 pounds of used oil filters.  Carpets are 100% post-consumer plastic containers.

Educational programs abound, with the Newport Bay Naturalists and Friends passionately transferring knowledge gleaned from real-life experience.  There is a Cleanup Day on Sept. 25, when you can pick up trash and get educated about the watershed and why things in the eight surrounding communities of 154 square miles are so important.  Did you know that all that run-off washes into the Bay?

A couple weeks ago, a Letter to the Editor labeled me as an Eco Butt Head, and I get why.  Sometimes, when we advocate, the law of unintended consequence appears.  We solve one issue, and create another.  But I offer a green double-dare to the author, and any other folks that may fall into the climate-change-is-a-hoax trap, or any thinking that says conservation is not important:  Visit the Interpretive Center.  Bring a loved one or friend as it is always nice to share.  Stand there, sun on your face, beauty as your vista, and take three deep, cleansing breaths.  Guaranteed conclusion of “this place is awesome.”

Thank you for your emails.  Keep ideas coming to [email protected]

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