Other Voices: Instead of the old Halsey House, how about a new nature center?

As a neighbor who lives within a few hundred yards of Redwood Grove and the Halsey House, I have followed the issue of renovating the Halsey House and caring for the beautiful and unique Redwood Grove Nature Preserve for years.

Some folks feel that the old Halsey House structure is inextricably tied to the nature preserve and that the programs there would fail without it. However, others would argue the nature preserve itself is the critical feature.

There’s another way to look at it that would protect Redwood Grove and enhance our overall Los Altos park facilities. One synergistic solution would be to use the adjacent and underutilized space of the beautiful Garden House to support both parks.

Rather than spending upward of $5 million to rebuild the Halsey House, which is by itself a conundrum riddled with problems (flood plain, no Americans with Disabilities access, parking issues), our fair city council could consider repurposing the very large basement space at the Garden House at Shoup Park to create a fully operational “Los Altos Nature Center” with a camp office and year-round facility to support parks and recreation activities at both Redwood Grove Camp and Camp Shoup. Given the fact that Redwood Grove and Shoup Park are connected by a very short, beautiful ADA trail the city built recently, it makes perfect sense.

For a fraction of the cost of rebuilding the Halsey House, the city could finish the renovation of the Garden House basement to create a nature center which could include a creekside patio (where the old basketball court is), with eating area, ADA restrooms, a native California garden and it would provide a very safe pickup and drop-off parking location. Programs could easily be extended year-round for field trips from nearby school districts to create a great learning environment for several science and history subjects and to provide a revenue stream to the Recreation and Community Services Department.

Partnering with some of our most treasured community organizations, the space might include a rotating exhibit area maintained by the Los Altos History Museum, which could highlight the surrounding Old Los Altos neighborhood, including the history of the railroad, some of the historical homes (think: Shoup, Mariani, Winchester and others) as well as earlier inhabitants. Grassroots Ecology (formerly Acterra), which helps maintain Redwood Grove, could also have a learning exhibit and programs housed in the space. Living Classroom, which partners with the Los Altos School District, could maintain a garden area of native plants and engage kids attending the camps in learning about California’s native flora and fauna. These are three excellent programs that could really enhance the city’s parks and recreation programs.

Previously, The Underground Teen Center occupied the space, but that is moving to the community center as well, thus creating the perfect opportunity to make a really good investment in an existing park building for a strong community benefit.

Lest we forget the Halsey House and the Halsey family, educational materials can be embedded into this community amenity by providing a historical context and possibly marking
the trails with informational markers.

Let’s approach this by thinking of the future and not just the past.

Nancy Bremeau is a Los Altos resident.

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