Sea Scout building in Baylands launches new life

Environmental Volunteers open new headquarters Sunday as center for science education

At the ship-shaped EcoCenter in the Palo Alto Baylands, portholes serve as windows on the marshland home of the California clapper rail and the sand piper. Above the windows, the poet e.e. Cummings' words dance: "The world is mud-luscious and puddle wonderful."

It's a sentiment the Environmental Volunteers, a nonprofit organization that teaches science through hands-on education, hopes to instill in children and adults in the Bay Area.

This Sunday, July 22, the 40-year-old nonprofit will open its new headquarters in the former Sea Scout building following an eight-year, $3.8 million effort to restore it.

The EcoCenter boasts wooden decks that provide an all-encompassing view of the surrounding marshlands. Inside, four huge, touch-screen monitors in the capacious Fenwick Hall, the center's main group-learning space, feature colorful, interactive displays on topics such as "Sky," "Earth," "Sea" and "Change." On one screen, there's a quiz on bird-beak identification. Another features live streaming of the tides outside.

The new headquarters will help the Environmental Volunteers reach a wider audience, according to spokesperson Kristi Moos.

"We're able to expand our mission to serve as environmental educators in the local community, and we're excited to call upon the wonderful natural resources available to us," she said. "We will use this wonderful teaching tool to bring the public into a greater appreciation and respect for wetlands and the species that inhabit them."

The center's first exhibit will focus on the marsh and feature a "marsh-cam," a camera that streams video of the marsh and its inhabitants 24 hours a day. A variety of other habitats, ranging from the tundra to the forest, will also be the subject of the center's activities.

Each year, the Environmental Volunteers serves about 13,000 children and adults in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. Ten thousand of those are taught through schools. The organization trains volunteers to teach natural science through interactive classroom presentations, day camps, nature walks and field trips.

"Our programs are hands-on because kids don't learn in a museum setting. They need to have a personal experience with nature," Executive Director Allen Berkowitz said. "We teach in small groups and keep it inquiry-based so kids arrive at the answers to their questions. We want them to develop an intellectual methodology that will allow them to better understand the world in general."

Teaching children to be comfortable with science is essential, he said.

"Especially in California and the Silicon Valley, science is such a key economic factor. ... Science is an integral part of understanding life and it leads to discoveries as well as better quality of life."

The organization plans a variety of educational activities through the center, including speaking events, art exhibitions and guided hikes focusing on different subjects.

"We expect to do lots of creative things," Berkowitz said. "These activities could include canoeing in the marshes, bird photography or studying marsh plants."

A complete calendar of events will be available in August.

Designed in 1941 by Birge and David Clark, the building was commissioned by philanthropist Lucie Stern as a gift to the City of Palo Alto. It was formerly used as the local Sea Scout base until the Palo Alto harbor closed and the Sea Scouts moved in 1986. In 2004, the City of Palo Alto offered the Environmental Volunteers a 40-year lease in exchange for renovating the structure and agreeing to use the space as a community resource for environmental education.

As part of the rehabilitation, the building was moved off of its old foundation onto a structure 4 feet higher than the original to prevent daily tidal flooding and vandalism, both problems the building faced in the past. Later, the building's interior and exterior were refurbished and landscaping added.

At Sunday's grand opening, from 1 to 4 p.m. at 2560 Embarcadero Road, EcoCenter volunteers and staff will lead nature walks around the surrounding Baylands, as well as a scavenger hunt and a bird-watching expedition. The free event will also include tours of the center and exhibits, a raffle, music, an art show featuring local artists and a short opening ceremony.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2012 at 9:22 am

This is good news. The building looks great and I am pleased to see that it is being used. I wish the Interpretive Center could be taken over by some non profit group and updated. It always looked so sad and out of date. What is going to happen to it?

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Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 20, 2012 at 10:20 am

This is so great! I spent a lot of time as a toddler hanging out at the duck pond and running across the old Sea Scout building. It was a historic, unique building it was always such a shame you couldn't go inside. I can't wait to visit it again!

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Posted by litebug
a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2012 at 11:24 am

How very disappointing not to have at least one photo of the exterior of the building. It was still a mess when we moved and I was eager to see what it looks like now. I always found it interesting. Instead, all we got was one very limited interior picture that could have been taken anywhere. DUH

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Posted by Gary Ruppel
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 20, 2012 at 11:25 am

This is quite an achievement. My late father(Ray Ruppel)was a Sea Scout leader in the 1950's. He would be so proud to see the old building renovated!

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Posted by Hulkamania
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 20, 2012 at 12:14 pm

I was in Sea Scouts in the early '60s. We'd spend entire weekends at the base working on our ship and other projects. It was a great time.

Although I'm sorry to see the building is not being used for its original purpose it is good to see it serving a useful purpose. Something good did come out of the city being forced into preserving a useful building they wanted to tear down.

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Posted by LaurieN
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm

Agree about the lack of a good photo of the very attractive exterior. There must be dozens around.

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Posted by Michel
a resident of another community
on Jul 20, 2012 at 2:27 pm

You can see photos on the EV website:

2 people like this
Posted by Debbie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 20, 2012 at 9:24 pm

Ray Ruppel was the principal at Jordan Jr. High when I was a kid in the early sixties.
He was a great guy. Always so nice to the students.

Like this comment
Posted by Naphtali
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 21, 2012 at 3:41 pm

You can see five photos taken June 29, 2012, at Web Link

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Posted by Jack Kidder
a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2012 at 1:39 pm

In 1999 Ken Murray, Sr. and his four sons organized a three- day, 70th year reunion of south bay Sea Scout ships commencing with a Friday night gathering at scout headquarters at the Lucy Stern Community Center. On Saturday morning we gathered at the Sea Scout base in the baylands and rededicated the building. Old time sea scouts from the 1930's forward attended, including a dozen from the Chester T. Wrucke (Ship 40)-- the ship headed by Dr. George Downing in the 1950's. The sea scout program was an invaluable and incredibly enjoyable experience -- the base will always hold a favorite spot in my memory. I am pleased it has been saved.

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Posted by Go Outdoors
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 23, 2012 at 11:05 am

All these people clamoring for a picture...I can give you directions so you can see it for yourself in person. Its not far from here ;)

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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