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Cosmos' Doggie Blog

Headshot of Shirley the dog, a white labradorShirley writes: Dear Cosmos, In spite of another year of below average rainfall in San Diego, I couldn’t help but notice while sniffing around recently that Balboa Park seems to stay green year round. What’s the secret?

Cosmos: There’s really no secret. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the City of San Diego Park & Recreation Department, the Balboa Park Conservancy, and the Friends of Balboa Park over the past few years, the Park has gotten a leg up on the drought by replacing water-hogging landscaping with water-wise plants and irrigation systems. And they’re just getting started. Three new projects are already underway or are shovel-ready to bring more green things to tickle your snout.

Section of the Park Boulevard Median project with drought tolerant flowering plantsPark Boulevard Median Project

The beginning of this month saw the completion of a major project to install drought-tolerant landscaping and more efficient irrigation along the Park Boulevard median. The thematic landscaping includes roses in the median near the Rose Garden, succulents near the Desert Garden, Down Under-themed flora near the Australian Garden, and African vegetation by the San Diego Zoo. The dramatic median makeover is designed to save over 500,000 gallons of water each year and 8–12 hours of maintenance labor each week.

Persian Water Carpet Garden

Though easy to oversniff, the shady garden nestled between the Casa de Balboa and House of Hospitality is getting a water-wise makeover of its own. Anchored by the elegant, low-flow “Persian Water Carpet” fountain, this garden will feature a new water-wise plant palette that includes myrtle, white rose bushes, and something you don’t see every day in the region’s public gardens, bulbs, which I have no desire to dig up now that I know they’re there. Scout’s honor.

Arbor Day Planting

Saving the best for last, I’m excited to announce the Friends of Balboa Park’s annual Arbor Day planting will bring new species of trees to the Park just west of the Pepper Grove Play Area. On April 29, with the help of second grade pups from Albert Einstein Academy Charter Elementary School, the Friends will plant 14 new California-friendly trees that follow a prehistoric theme, gingko and Wollemi pines.

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San Diego Earth Fair 2016 logo, Vote CoolWhen I was just a pup, I always appreciated how the annual San Diego Earth Fair in Balboa Park presented a great opportunity to celebrate our beautiful planet and learn how to protect endangered species, preserve natural habitats and resources, and reduce and clean up pollution.

Now an old dog, I continue to learn new tricks as the Earth Fair continues to present even more affordable and easy things I can do to personally reduce my carbon paw print, like taking public transportation to the Earth Fair! Given its ideal Balboa Park setting (in North America’s largest urban park), it’s no wonder that the San Diego Earth Fair remains the largest free environmental-themed festival in the world—hosting over 60,000 visitors.

On Sunday, April 17, the San Diego Earthworks Earth Fair will once again take over the Park with 300 exhibitors, ranging from conservation groups and pet adoption services to organic gardening experts and alternative health products. Attendees will be treated to a diversity of music styles, including acoustic, folk, pop, jazz, world, and contemporary, on five live entertainment stages. And this year’s children’s activity area will teach pups of all ages how to make paper, create gift cards from recycled materials, and how to visit wild areas without disturbing the environment.

Speaking of pups, the all-species Children’s Earth Parade will begin winding its way from Spanish Village to the Pan American Plaza at 10:30am, allowing kids to show off how much more adorable they are when dressed as their favorite endangered species and displaying important Earth-friendly messages. Another popular Earth Fair staple, the Cleaner Car Concourse will show off the latest and greatest in alternative fuel vehicles—ones that are actually being produced today as opposed to the “cars of the future” I would see as a pup.

Of course the highlight of any Earth Fair is the Food Pavilion, featuring so many tasty options you won’t even notice they are all vegetarian. New this year is a Beer & Mead Garden. And if you are like most bipeds living in Southern California in the 21st century, you probably have never tried mead, a honey-based alcoholic beverage made popular by Shakespeare and the Game of Thrones TV show.

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Girls sitting in airplane cockpit, Summer Camp, San Diego Air and Space MuseumBelieve it or not, the vast majority of what pups learn during their lifetime comes not from obedience school but from the world around them. For many, this world is becoming increasingly limited to digital forms of information and entertainment from tablets, smart phones, online videos, and computer games.

Not that I’m totally dogging digital forms of information — I make a pretty good living at it. But before I make my contribution to the Internet’s vast digital archive, I spend a fair amount of time sniffing around one of the world’s largest and most diverse cultural resources in the world: Balboa Park.

With Balboa Park’s Summer Camp program, pups from all over San Diego County can experience new ways of learning, creating, discovering, problem solving, exploring, and playing that don’t involve constantly staring at TV monitors and touch screens. Over a dozen world-class cultural organizations present a wide range of topics and activities in full-day or half-day camp format that can be mixed and matched week to week over the course of the summer.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m barking about, here is just a small selection of possible camp activities in Balboa Park:

·       An astronaut camp in a space station simulator at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center

·       Collecting natural objects in the Park to create walking sticks, animal masks, and more at the Spanish Village Art Center

·       Experiencing traditional life in Japan through crafts, gardening, games, food, and other activities at the Japanese Friendship Garden

·       Building rockets and launching hot air balloons at the San Diego Air & Space Museum

·       Discovering and practicing the art of ballet with the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet

·       Digging for artifacts and meeting archeologists at the San Diego Museum Man

Balboa Park Summer Camps are especially convenient for larger packs of finicky campers who need a variety of activities to hold their attention. Through a unique collaborative camp program, campers can spend the morning in one camp, enjoy a chaperoned lunch break in the Park, and then be escorted to a camp in another part of the Park.

The most popular camps are filling up quickly, so be sure to start contacting each institution separately to sign your pups up before it’s too late!

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Hot dog! Or better yet — fish taco! Food trucks will be pulling up inside the Plaza de Panama this Friday, April 1, from 5 to 9 o’clock — in the evening! Seriously, this is no April Fools’ joke. Four of San Diego’s most popular trucks, Tacos La Mezcla, Caliano by Spinelli, Sushi Uno, and Cousins Maine Lobster, will be delivering affordable gourmet treats, including fresh carnitas, wood fired pizzas, and seafood rolls, to my home away from home.

Tacos La Mezcla food truck, Food Truck Fridays, Balboa ParkBut what’s really got my tail a waggin’ is that this week’s Food Truck Friday is just the soft launch of a new program organized by the Balboa Park Conservancy and the City of San Diego Park and Rec to bring food trucks to Balboa Park’s favorite gathering spot on a regular basis. The date of the next Food Truck Friday, May 6, has already been announced.

Last year, the Balboa Park Conservancy worked with Park and Rec and outside funders to activate the Plaza de Panama, making it a central hub in Balboa Park for picnicking with your pet at the many new tables and living room-style furnishings, enjoying an occasional free outdoor performance, using the free public Wi-Fi, playing a giant chess match, and viewing modern sculptures installed by The San Diego Museum of Art.

Food Truck Fridays are the next step in the evolution of this space. Not only will all species of visitors be able to enjoy fancy foods from San Diego’s pick-of-the-litter mobile eating establishments, they’ll also be treated to acoustic guitar music by Mario Olivares and can wash down their meal with craft beers, wine, and cocktails at the adjacent Panama 66 bar or the nearby Prado Restaurant.

Keep an eye on this blogspace for the announcement of new Food Truck Friday dates and related activities as summer approaches.

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I have great news for anyone else still feeling sick as a dog over the end of the Balboa Park Centennial celebrations. Balboa Park’s largest attraction, not to mention one of the world’s most famous animal attractions, the San Diego Zoo, is celebrating its own 100-year anniversary this year. Even better, several Balboa Park cultural institutions will be honoring the zoo’s major milestone throughout 2016.

The Lore Behind the Roar exhibition, San Diego History Center, zoo elephant coop in 1966Leading the pack is a major exhibition at the San Diego History Center that surveys the entire 100-year history of the San Diego Zoo. Created in collaboration with San Diego Zoo Global, The Lore Behind the Roar: 100 Years of the San Diego Zoo is a pup-friendly interactive experience that allows visitors to “ride” on a vintage zoo tour bus, hear intriguing stories straight from the horse’s mouth (aka long-time zoo employees), sniff around the zoo’s extensive animal and plant collection, and discover little-known facts about the zoo. In addition, a special kids area called the Roar Family Den features engaging family activities, such as the Animal Dinner Table, Condor Puppets, and the Life of a Zookeeper.

Those champing at the bit to learn how the San Diego Zoo emerged from a ragtag collection of animals left behind by the 1915-1916 Panama California Exposition into a top dog San Diego destination should check out this interactive online timeline, filled with facts and photos spanning the zoo’s entire history.

Another intriguing section of The Lore Behind the Roar reviews the zoo’s many contributions to popular culture, including its nationally syndicated TV show Zoorama, which was filmed live at the San Diego Zoo. Baby boomers are invited to scratch their nostalgia itch and show everyone in their litter what life was like before color TV with daily showings of episodes from the popular TV series.

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