Playing tourist in our own backyards

On vacation, you do vacation stuff: touring museums, hiking, even shopping. Tourism advertisers spend megabucks to attract visitors to experience our Central Coast. So have you ever played tourist in your own backyard?

“Our park visits are up,” said Mary Golden, director of the Central Coast Natural History Association. “In this economy, people are looking for family-friendly activities that are affordable.”

Morro Bay’s Natural History Museum overlooks a bountiful bay of birds and boats. Yet it costs only $3 for adults, with kids under 18 free.

View and learn about the skeletal remains of a minke whale found on the sand spit about four years ago. Newer features are the fun insects exhibit and puppet theater.

“One of our best programs is ‘Adventures in Nature,’ ” Golden said. “Docents are passionate about their activity, since they designed it based on their own interests. Museum manager and State Park interpreter Rouvaishyana reviews their concept for accuracy and interpretive interests, then lets them entertain.”

Adventures are held at Pismo Beach, Montaña de Oro State Park, Los Osos Oaks Preserve, Morro Bay State Park, Estero Bluffs, Morro Strands and Harmony Headlands.

The Tribune’s daily calendar and www.ccnha.org list the 30 monthly free activities with Bluff Trail walks and talks on sea otters, digital photography, Chumash life, heron rookery, and more.

“Anya Strunk leads our junior rangers,” Golden said. “She’s a kid at heart and offers a new program each Friday and Saturday, like ‘bugs for a day’ or ‘tracks.’ Kids can earn their junior ranger badge and hat.”

The camp kiosk lists the weekly program each Wednesday. It’s also available by calling 772-2694.

As with other organizations, memberships and funding have been affected, so the association is trying a new approach.

“We call it a friend-raiser,” Golden said. “We’re going to offer a series of free events for members investing $100 or more. The first one is Martini de Oro on Aug. 28, an after-hours experience at Montaña de Oro with gold martinis, hors d’oeuvres, sunset and Rouvaishyana-style entertainment. Members are encouraged to bring two guests free.”

Three to four more events for the year, including kid-friendly activities, are in the planning stages.

“Our goal is to build membership,” Golden said. “When our members use the facilities, they understand and appreciate the value our parks and museum provide for the area.”

RSVP to Golden at 528-1397 by Aug. 20.

And lest we take their programs for granted. An average of 55,000 people tour Morro Bay’s Museum, and 60,000 visit Monarch Grove annually. Another 10,000 students discover their better natures at the museum, an educational partner with State Parks.

Reach Judy Salamacha at 801-1422 or jsalamacha@yahoo.com.