Exploration center puts fun into conservation

Roseville facility showcases green living
By: Gloria Young Home & Garden
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Sustainability and being light on the land. That’s the premise behind the Roseville Utility Exploration Center, which features exhibits, workshops, lectures and special activities. Director Bob Garrison has headed the center since it opened three years ago. “Because we are funded by our two utilities, our focus is on energy conservation for Roseville,” he said. However, the center has become a regional attraction, getting workshop registrations and school groups from as far away as Elk Grove and Nevada County. There’s been more than 100,000 visitors so far. “It’s because there’s no other center like this,” Garrison said. “We’re the only one (in Northern California) that offers free exhibits.” The three focus areas are energy and water conservation, and solid waste reduction. The exhibit hall’s displays not only cover how to reduce energy and water consumption, but also global warming and population issues. A program for first-to-sixth-grades operates from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday-Friday. Students tour the exhibit hall, spend time in hands-on learning labs and have a lunch dump activity, according to Matthew Davis, community relations coordinator. It’s also the place to go on almost any Saturday to beef up your gardening expertise. This month’s Green Living workshops include irrigation installation, beginning gardeners’ seasonal almanac, creating beautiful gardens with less water, composting A-Z and vermicomposting. “The weekend gardening workshops are very popular,” Davis said. It’s all about conservation. “A lot of time we’re talking about what to do to save money — growing your own vegetables, reducing water consumption by irrigation methods,” Garrison said To make the center accessible to everyone, workshops fees are per family. It’s all contained in a 3,200-square-foot exhibit hall with an adjoining 800-square-foot technology lab. “It’s a small center, but we’re planning to expand in a great way next year,” Garrison said. An outdoor one-acre IDEAscape — interaction, demonstration and exhibit area — is on the drawing board. “The exhibit hall talks about the challenges we face in the community and things you can do at home to resolve them,” Garrison said. “What we don’t have now are actually demonstration materials you can take home and integrate into your home.” The new addition will solve that issue, with photovoltaics, water conservation gardens, rain gardens, recycling and permeable paving demonstrations. “We’ll be breaking ground in late 2012,” Garrison said. “We have money set aside for it and there’s a big grant we’re waiting to hear from.” The grant is part of the state’s Proposition 84 clean water act. Garrison said he’s optimistic the $1.3 million grant will be approved. “We’ll raise about half the money for the IDEAscape,” Garrison said. As plans progress, members of the community will have an opportunity to provide feedback on what they want to see displayed, he said. Oakland resident Lori Palmquist, who gives irrigation classes in the spring and fall, taught a basic and advanced class Saturday. The timing coincides with the rains tapering down. Attendees learn how to get the kinks out of their irrigation system before it’s time to start giving supplemental water to the plants, she said. The most common problem Palmquist sees is running sprinklers with too much pressure. “If the pressure is too high, then the water sprinkles and slides away. It doesn’t land on the plants and the lawn. So that wastes a lot of water,” she said. “We talk a lot about pressure irrigation, which is bringing pressure down to within the limits of what the sprinkler really wants.” Palmquist also encourages changing a sprinkler system to a drip system for non-lawn planted areas and she explains how to do it. “It puts the water exactly where the plant needs it, which is at the root level,” she said. “It’s not expensive and it’s not involved.” The center is celebrating Water Awareness Day on Saturday March 19. Among the activities will be a “Creating Beautiful Gardens with Less Water” workshop. There will also be free workshops every half-hour on irrigation troubleshooting, leak detection, landscape health and plant selection. “We’ll have some instructors doing mini-consultations for folks who walk in,” Garrison said. The center’s Celebrate the Earth Festival will be April 16, with dozens of local green business vendors, food, live entertainment and kids activities. Garrison’s background is in environmental education. He worked for the Sacramento Science Center and Junior Museum, then spent time with state Parks and the Department of Fish and Game. He also ran a consulting company called Nature Tourism Planning. “When this job (at the exploration center) came open, it gave me an opportunity to return to my environmental education roots,” he said. Davis is the center’s only other full-time staff member. His background is in communications and public relations. He previously worked for the city of Roseville. There are also several part-time employees. Reach Gloria Young at ----------- Roseville Utility Exploration Center Where: 1502 Pleasant Grove Blvd., Roseville Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday On the Web: Upcoming events: • Water Awareness Day, Saturday, March 19, free admission • Celebrate the Earth Festival, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, April 16, Mahany Park, 1501 Pleasant Grove Blvd., Roseville