Discovery Center Creates Wonders for All
by Bob Carter

If ever there's a place where a day's not long enough, weekends are filled with oohs and aahs, and life's one big hiking and canoeing experience, then maybe the Big Bear Discovery Center, a recreational information center located in California's San Bernardino National Forest. It's the area's gateway to adventure and discovery.

The Big Bear Discovery Center, 17 years in the planning, serves as a pilot project for the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Several human and natural phenomena have accelerated the National Forest to educate the public to respect and protect the world's natural wealth.

The following is an overview of the Discovery Center's purpose and activities. Now in it's second year of success, one major goal of the Big Bear Discover Center is to show visitors and residents alike the value of a judicious use of the natural and human resources.

The San Bernardino National Forest ranges from the Mojave Desert to mountain wilderness. Mt. San Gorgonio, at 11,502 feet, is the highest point in southern California. It welcomes more visitors annually than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined. The national forest areas of San Bernardino encompass nearly 900,000 acres and has the highest known concentration of endangered species of any national forest in North America.

The Big Bear Discovery Center has become both a gateway to the forest and a destination unto itself. Guests visit the Center for naturalist-led interpretive programs, evening nature lectures, hiking information, to purchase permits, to linger over constantly changing exhibits on things from native animals to fire prevention, or to browse the Adventure Outpost, a one-of-a-kind, nature-themed gift shop.

The more adventurous may join a fee-based Discovery Tour on foot or by canoe, participate in Eagle Tours, or explore Grout Bay on Big Bear Lake by canoe. Many more join guides on regularly scheduled hikes or participate in campfire programs that run throughout some seasons.

A self-guided Gold Fever Trail tour us available for outdoor enthusiasts challenged enough to take a 10.9 mile dirt road and 8.2 miles back to the Ranger Station. Along the way, visitors learn about "boot soup," Holcomb's discovery, Last Chance Placer, Two Gun Bill's Saloon, the Grasshopper Quartz Mill and more. There are even those who pick up speed as they wind the short 460-foot trail to the Ross' Grave site.

But wait, there's plenty more to see and do. The pigmy Cabin is a curiosity, and the history and discovery of California's gold is known far and near. Outdoor adventurists, wildlife watchers, and history buffs all find plenty of opportunities to get familiar with the area. Besides, you'll never know when you'll come across something you weren't expecting unless you get out and smell the sagebrush.

Selected Camping Opportunities

Nearby public campgrounds are numerous. Note most camping is seasonal, and vehicle lengths and amenities vary. Always check with local ranger districts and/or reservation services regarding campground requirements.

Big Pine Flats, 17 sites, no reservations, 909-866-3437; Crab Flats, 29 sites, no reservations, 909-337-2444; Hanna Flat, 69 sites, reservations, 877-444-6777; Pinenot, 52 sites, reservations, 877-444-6777; Serrano, 132 sites, reservations, 877- 444-6777.

Trip Tips

Visitors can call the Big Bear Discovery Center at 909-866-3437 and get the most up- to-date schedule of activities. Better yet, stop by the Center located on the north shore of Big Bear Lake. The action begins 4 miles east of the town of Fawnskin or 1 1/2 miles west of the Stanfield Cutoff. Specifically, the Big Bear Discover Center is located on North Shore Drive, Highway 38 and is open 7 days a week. Winter hours, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Summer hours, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m; Summer Holiday hours on Friday & Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

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