It's been a year of change and improvement at Hart Park.
Now the race is on to establish an official visitor center alongside the Kern River in this picturesque county location. The new interpretive center is supposed to be open for business by next summer — no easy feat — using the soon-to-be restored adobe Peacock House as its base.
Craig Smith, president of the Kern River Parkway Foundation, said the interpretive center will be a "resource gem" not only for Hart Park and the Kern River Parkway, but for all of Kern County.
"The overwhelming response to a Peacock Adobe Interpretive Center has been not only positive, but (it has been) met with varied and inspired creative ideas on how it will be a true center for providing educational, cultural, natural, and recreational information," Smith said.
Right now, the 80-year-old Depression-era structure, a two-bedroom house designed by local architect W. Francis Parsons, is not much to look at. Neither is the surrounding acreage. But if the end-product is anything like the proposed design for the house and the grounds that surround it, it could be transformative.
Besides adding restrooms, making the walkways and entryways accessible to the disabled, and sprucing up the landscaping and interior and exterior of the building, supporters of the project have a much grander vision.
A conceptual design of the project, focused on the property near the Peacock House, reimagines the grounds as a visitor destination, complete with a covered pavilion, walkways, shaded benches, a picnic area, a small pond and other amenities — all of it dotted with native plants and drawing some of the scores of bird species that visit and populate the park.
According to a map of the proposal, the grounds would include a small outdoor lecture center where volunteer docents from local museums and groups like the Kern Chapter of the California Audubon Society could educate visitors about the area's history, wildlife, geology, cultural and recreational opportunities. A nearby outbuilding would be tapped for maintenance and storage. And a permanent roost would be set aside for the resident peacocks.
Sure, the extra outdoor amenities are part of an ambitious vision that is currently not much more than a wish list, but Smith believes over the next two to five years much of it can be achieved through funding from grants, work from volunteers, and possible support from local corporate and business leaders.
Harry Love, president of the local chapter of the Audubon Society, said he and his fellow members are excited about the chance to be part of a small army of volunteers dedicated to making the new visitor center a success. As dedicated "birders," Love said Audubon members are well prepared to help park visitors learn the basics of bird-watching and identifying the numerous species seen at Hart Park.
"I think this center will be a great gathering place," he said. "I expect us to participate as docents."
Hart Park, he said, is the best spot in Kern County for bird-watching.
"You always find one or two species of great importance to you," he said of birding at the park. "The lake out there is an excellent magnet for birds."
Members of Sierra Club, the Kern County Native Plant Society, the Kern County Historical Society and other groups are interested, Smith said.
Last month, the county of Kern, through the efforts of Supervisor Mike Maggard, made a commitment — using community development funds — to repurpose the old building, with the proviso that it will open in summer 2020, powered by volunteers to work there and run it.
Bidding for the refurbishing is expected to start in March, with construction beginning in April, Maggard said.
Smith, who is organizing this army of volunteers, may have the toughest job of all.
"My goal is to have an organization operational and in place next summer," he said, "with a very soft opening date of Aug. 1, 2020."