"We're extremely excited," said James Nix, 88. "We've been looking forward to this for a long time."
The Nix Nature Center will be dedicated Saturday in a day-long "preview" event from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., including exhibits, tours and hiking, and then will close for several months for additional improvements, said Mary Fegraus, of the Laguna Canyon Foundation.
The Center sits off the newly opened two-lane Laguna Canyon Road, which itself was dedicated just two weeks ago in a formal ceremony.
The center — with the theme "Full Circle" — will educate visitors about the history, ecology and uses of the gentle, sycamore-studded hills that make up the wilderness park.
Telling the story of how the 6,500-acre park came into being is a major component of the center, which will feature specially commissioned murals, a sculpture and a continuous-loop exhibition of photographs depicting the fight to save the canyon.
It's not just a story of land. It's a story about people.
It was 15 years ago this month that thousands marched to save the canyon from an intensive Irvine Co. development project that had been approved four years earlier by the Board of Supervisors.
On Nov. 11, 1989, an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 marchers with placards created a half-mile-long human chain to halt the plans for 3,200 homes, a golf course and commercial areas on the 2,150-acre Laguna Laurel tract, on the eastern edge of Laguna Beach.
At the time, the mass protest was seen as an act of desperation by a community that was fighting apparently unbeatable odds.
Over the next decade and a half, a tug of war was waged among preservationists, municipalities and property owners — primarily the Irvine Co.— over the future of the land.