A 250-acre state park in Riverside that highlights the region’s rich citrus heritage is in line for major improvements.
The recently adopted state budget set aside $30 million for construction of several buildings at California Citrus State Historic Park, including a “grower’s residence” that would become a hub of activity for special events and a “workers’ camp bunkhouse” to depict pickers’ modest accommodations and describe how they lived.
Plans also include building a replica packing house that could feature live demonstrations on how oranges were sorted and boxed, said Maureen Kane, secretary of Friends of California Citrus Park and a former Riverside City Council member.
It’s all designed to more completely tell the story of how citrus rose to dominance across the region and came to be called California’s second gold rush.
Ron Loveridge, president of the friends group and a former Riverside mayor, said the dollars set the stage for a substantial transformation.
Nestled in Riverside’s greenbelt, the Dufferin Avenue park boasts seemingly endless rows of citrus groves set against the backdrop of towering palm trees and the region’s picturesque mountain ranges. However, there are few structures aside from the visitor center.
“It’s beautiful,” Loveridge said Thursday, July 21. “But it doesn’t tell the story.”
That’s going to change with the upgrades, he said.
Kane said the buildings also will provide activities for people and let the park reach its potential for luring visitors.
“If people are going to drive this distance, they need a more significant experience than just walking through groves,” Kane said, while strolling the grounds Thursday.
Now, Loveridge said, visits tend to be brief.
“You park your car, you walk around, you look at the beautiful trees and you leave,” he said.
California Citrus State Historic Park park opened in August 1993. Almost 200 acres of citrus groves there are managed by the friends group and produce navel and Valencia oranges, grapefruits and lemons.
Loveridge said that, early on, supporters believed the park had the potential to attract more than 200,000 visitors a year. However, the California Department of Parks and Recreation estimates attendance totaled 56,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, with close to half of the visitors coming for private events such as weddings, parties and corporate gatherings.
The new features will enable the park to “realize its vision,” Loveridge said.
State dollars were secured through the efforts of Assembly Member Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside, and state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside. The award calls for the state to team up with the city of Riverside on the $30-million venture.
“The allocation of $30 million to our Citrus State Historic Park is the culmination of a 30-year vision to make this space more than just a protected orange grove,” Patricia Lock Dawson, Riverside’s current mayor, said in an email. “Our vision for an interactive destination that brings to life the diverse stories of citrus workers and the crop that made Riverside the wealthiest city in the nation per capita in the late 19th century will now be realized.”
While timing and details of construction have yet to be determined, friends board members said, a preliminary plan of desired improvements was prepared by Rick Engineering in 2017. Highlights include:
- The concourse, a large open-turf area for hosting events of up to 200 people
- The grower’s residence, a two-story, 12,000-square-foot building with exterior architecture reminiscent of the citrus industry’s rise and interior rooms that host school programs, conferences and events
- The workers’ camp bunkhouse, a two-story structure spanning 7,000 square feet
- The packing house, a 6,000-square-foot building
- A wooden trestle bridge spanning an arroyo running through the park, offering a way for visitors to walk between attractions
The improvements would build on recent efforts, through exhibits at the visitor center, to call attention to the waves of immigrants from across the globe — Chinese, Italians, Japanese, Koreans and Mexicans — as well as the Native Americans, who picked and packed fruit harvested across the Inland Empire.
“There are numerous groups that filtered through this area,” Kane said. “And when you put it all together it’s an incredible story.”
Park promoters also aim to tell the story of how the industry rose from Eliza Tibbets’ planting of the first navel orange tree in 1873 to help shape the California Dream, how climate, soil and water factored into growing citrus, how the industrial revolution and technological advances shaped the industry, how groves rapidly declined when the region urbanized, and why pests and disease threaten the future of California’s iconic crop.
One of the biggest concerns is citrus greening disease, which is spread by a tiny bug called the Asian citrus psyllid. Scientists from across town at UC Riverside are leading the search to find effective ways to confront it.
Loveridge said in a news release that the new facilities will “finally properly memorialize” the people who built the citrus industry with their hard work and advanced it through their industrial and technological innovations.
“Trees alone cannot tell the stories of blood, sweat and tears, and the completion of these capital improvements will finally make the citrus park a living and breathing history museum,” he said.
For information on the Friends of California Citrus Park, call 951-333-6786 or visit www.californiacitruspark.com
For information on the California Citrus State Historic Park, 9400 Dufferin Ave., Riverside; call 951-780-6222 or visit www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=649