AHWAHNEE – A group of like-minded individuals gathered at Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park on Monday, July 29, to break ground on the newest phase of renovation for the Oak Acorn Center, an interpretive community facility.
Plans call for an existing building to be torn down, with portions of the old wood re-purposed and built into a new structure designed to take its place.
Construction of the new center will enable the visitor experience to include historical photographs, artifacts, and ephemera, and to gaze out on the beautiful view from an expansive observation deck.
The Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park is a 241-acre nature park on Highway 49 in Madera County. It serves as a natural oak habitat resource for recreation and education for Madera County and the surrounding area.
The park land is owned by Madera County, while day-to-day operation, maintenance, and improvements are the responsibility of the Friends of Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park (AHRP). Fern Facchino is the Chairman of the organization, an all-volunteer nonprofit whose purpose is to operate, maintain and improve the park. Fern was on-site to welcome guests, along with Friends of AHRP Tony Ward, and Marc Sobel.
“The event was attended by key partners who have made the Oak Acorn Center a possibility,” said Brittany Dyer, Program Development and Project Manager of the Yosemite/Sequoia Resource Conservation and Development Council, an organization integral to the process.
The Yosemite/Sequoia Council is a nonprofit that works to improve the economy, environment and living standards of the foothill and mountain regions of neighboring counties, including Madera County.
Yosemite/Sequoia group Executive Director Steve Haze put a shovel to the ground, as did Program Manager David Konno, and secretary Mary Motola, representing the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians, as well.
Also there for the ceremony was Bill Hayter of W.L. Hayter & Associates in Exeter. Hayter’s firm has managed a series of grants amounting to $475,000 in funding over the course of about five years, all being used to make the Oak Acorn Center a reality. Also on the scene from Hayter & Associates was administrative assistant Erica Osorio.
Randy Papike of Papike Construction and his crew began a careful demo of the existing building, which is about 480 sq. ft.. The new structure will be approximately the same size and is set to include an observation deck that will add another 480′ onto the footprint.
Engineer Floyd Davis explained that some of the wood from the pre-1930s era building will be reclaimed, re-planed and re-used in the new space.
Others who attended and were instrumental in the progress of the renovation include professional foresting consultant Chuck Sikora, and Eric Fleming, the Chief Accounting Officer for Madera County.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler thanked the group for their patience and perseverance and congratulated everyone for taking this next big step towards the creation of the Oak Acorn Center.
Friends of ARHP are actively seeking donations of time or money to help the park provide its benefits to the public in the future.
Friends chair Fern also wants the community to know that organizers are still on the lookout for historical artifacts, photographs or documents related to the area, which was previously the location of a tuberculosis ward and a boys home. Items from the region in any time period are being sought.
Volunteers are hoping to get back some of what has been stolen from the site over the years. Anyone who has something to contribute can contact Fern Facchino at (559) 683-0408.
Entrance to the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park is free for individuals, while a fee is required to reserve space or conduct events. When staffing levels permit, the park will be open from 8 a.m. until dusk, Wednesday through Sunday, with pedestrian access Mondays and Tuesdays via the Wasuma Elementary School gate.
A park host will be in residence or volunteer docents will be on duty at most of the times the park is open to the public.