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Scout’s project pushes on

Vietnam War veteran and Eagle Scout says millions of dollars are still needed to finish outdoor project, which began in 1996.

February 16, 2008|By Daniel Tedford

The future site for the Orange County Outdoor Education Center doesn’t look like much. There are a few areas that have been graded in preparation for construction, water and gas pipes sprout from the ground, and the only major construction are the two mine shafts that are being built.

But when you talk to Michael Harrison, his enthusiasm can make you see the future center already.

The center’s plans include an aquatics center with Olympic-sized swimming pool, an astronomy camp, a ranch camp and other activity centers. A zip line with a harness will run over a nearby canyon to promote team building and confidence.

“It’s also just for fun,” Harrison said.

A mining camp will allow children to dig tunnels, pass minerals into a bucket, move them though a pulley system, and then sift through for hidden treasures, Harrison said. When they have dug all they can, the materials will be recycled back into the mine.

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Tents will be propped up nearby, an amphitheater will sit behind the mining camp and children can take aim at the BB gun and archery site.

Harrison, the vice-president at Trico Realty, acknowledges it’s a complicated project — the budget is set at $30 million — but he is intent on seeing it finished and has been since 1996, when conceptual plans began.

Harrison, a Corona del Mar resident, contributed $100,000 to the project, but it is still short of the $30 million needed. Harrison put funding at a critical stage, which is why he wanted to show his endorsement. The center needs about $12 million to finish the aquatics center and the bunk houses.

“You’ve got to prime the pump a little bit,” said Harrison who has been chairman of the Orange County Council of Boy Scouts of America, which developed the project.

Harrison is still very much a Boy Scout. His father was an Eagle Scout. He and his brother were both Eagle Scouts. His children were Eagle Scouts. He has been a counselor and still takes children on hikes. He believes the activities provided at the center will help build character, not just for Boy Scouts, but for local YMCAs, Boys & Girls Clubs and local schools.

“When I was 16, we took a hike in the High Sierras,” said Harrison who went on to become a Navy mine sweeper during the Vietnam War. “I was in charge of a group of 30 scouts on a four-day hike through back country. I gained the confidence I could lead a group.”

And leading is what he is trying to do for the center.

Organizers are still trying to raise money, and the retired Harrison is still working to make the center come to life. They are preparing full-time staff and are committed to finishing the facility.

“We will operate one way or another,” he said.

For more information, go to www.outdooreducationcenter.org.

Location: North side of Irvine Regional Park

Size: 210 Acres

Features: Mining Camp, Ranch Camp, Astronomy Camp, first-time camp/day use camp, activity centers, open-air amphitheater, conference center and dining hall, ROPE/COPE challenge course, aquatic center, nature center, training center, a citrus grove, and archery and BB gun ranges.


DANIEL TEDFORD may be reached at (714) 966-4632 or at daniel.tedford@latimes.com.

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