May 28--OAK GLEN -- The Wildlands Conservancy has opened a 220-acre botanic garden here that is unfolding as the largest in California.
The newly created Southern California Montane Botanic Garden is within the 2,100-acre Oak Glen Preserve, rescued from a developer 20 years ago.
"We toured some of the botanic gardens of Southern California and felt we could do a good job," said David Myers, The Wildlands Conservancy's executive director.
Within property boundaries of the botanic gardens and its related Children's Outdoor Discovery Center are oak woodlands, conifer forests, chaparral grasslands and two year-round streams, Myers said.
There are also redwood and sequoia trees there, planted by Isacc Ford, one of the area's early apple growers and a founder of Redlands.
Operating as the Oak Glen Preserve, there were already trails into the area, two stone restroom areas and a large parking facility.
The habitants also makes the botanic garden unique, Myers said.
Within the 220 acres are ponds with frogs and ducks, apple orchards, and display of farm equipment going back to the 1800s.
Next spring there will be at least 20 acres of wildflowers, Myers said.
Incorporated into the botanic garden is the Children's Outdoor Discovery Center, which has many special exhibits geared toward children.
The Wildlands Conservancy provides free naturalist-led programs for thousands of children every year, Admission into The Wildlands properties are always free, Myers said.
"We believe that the enjoyment of nature is a birthright," he said.
The Nature Conservancy is fund raising for Phase II, which will involve the development of another 80 acres on the north side of Oak Glen Road.
"The north side is fabulous. It has some of the best oak woodlands in Southern California," Myers said.
A new trail will lead to a champion oak tree, which is recognized as the largest variety in Southern California.
The trail will also include higher elevation hikes into year-round waterfalls forests of lodgepole, sugar and limber pines.
The north side includes the 9,324-foot Galena Peak, Wilshire Peak at 8,700 feet and Burch Mountain, 7,826 feet.
In the lower part of what will be Phase II is the 1917 Craftsman lodge build for apple orchard owner Howard Rivers and his wife Edith.
The property around the lodge will be a "jewel showcasing native California plants," Myers said.
Ponds near the structure will be expanded and a picnic area created, Myers said.
Hikes will be led from the lodge to the champion oak, he said.
"The San Bernardino Mountains, are among a rare group of United States ranges that are oriented to the east and west, he said.
"As plant life receded and expanded throughout the eons of glacial succession, species found niches on the north and south slopes of the San Bernardino Mountains," he said.
Bordered by the Sonoran Desert to the east, and with Sierra Nevada plant influences are carried from the northwest, the San Bernardino mountains are among the most botanically diverse range in the United States, said Paul Melzer, who heads up the organization's mission advancement.
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