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Scientists Question Plan to Build Gondola on Catalina Island

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The Catalina Island Conservancy recently released its 20 year master plan, chock full of proposals to help make Catalina more of a tourist destination (and raise money for conservation and education). The Conservancy has purchased the century-old Catherine Hotel and plans to refurbish the building into a tourism hub with a restaurant, gift shop, and ticket sales for local attractions. They also plan upgrades to the Airport in the Sky terminal and runways; a "Green Ribbon" of exhibits, art, and native plantings that would "stretch from the Cabrillo Mole through town and up Avalon Canyon to the Garden"; and a circular stage in front of the Wrigley Memorial, according to Catalina Island Online News. But here is the best part: they also want to build a 10 to 15 minute gondola ride from the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden to an observation deck up on a ridgeline at Divide Road--it'd be powered by a solar collection disc called "Earthrise," that would be visible "from the Channel side of the Island as a blue, half-round, sliver above the Wrigley Memorial." The plan was developed by the architecture firm William McDonough + Partners and the landscape architecture firm Nelson Byrd Woltz.

While a gondola sounds super great, scientists on the island are not happy with the plan. The Conservancy owns about 88% of Catalina and is funded mostly through philanthropy, grants, and gift store sales. Many say that it's been straying from its core mission of promoting conservation and education about the island (it's "a steward for at least 50 plant and animal species found nowhere else in the world," according to the LA Times), and that gondola money could be better used for something else. While the Conservancy has doubled its staff over the last 10 years, it's only added two-thirds more biologists and its chief conservation and science officer resigned earlier this month. The research center at Middle Ranch is getting old and, according to the LAT, "Annual surveys of birds and mammals were suspended indefinitely seven years ago to use those funds for other projects, such as bison management." (We're sure we don't have to tell you how pricey bison management can get.) Still, there are plans to update Middle Ranch with a new Center for Conservation Innovation, "a complex that would house the Conservation department and provide living space and labs for visiting scientists and researchers."
· Conservancy’s 'Imagine Catalina' Charts Course for Short Term and Next 20 Years [CION]
· Tourism clashes with research in planning Catalina's future [LAT]