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Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve Faces Grave Threat

Adapted from

“California Poppies” by Milt Stark,

Antelope Valley Reflections, Winter, 1996, Volume 4, Number 2

For as long as there have been travelers and settlers in the Antelope Valley, people have been amazed and delighted with the great golden expanses of California poppies covering much of the west side in the spring of wet years. Because of this floral phenomenon, hundreds of acres were set aside as the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve located on the Antelope Butte at about 135th Street West off of Lancaster Road. But this reserve did not just happen.

In the beginning there was Jane Pinheiro-known to some as the Great Poppy Lady-and then there was Dorothy Bolt and a host of dedicated citizens with one goal in mind: To establish a poppy reserve to protect and honor the state flower.

Jane Pinheiro was a self-taught wildflower artist and botanist, beginning her watercolor painting in the 1940' s while living on Poncho Bames Ranch (now part of Edwards Air Force Base). In the 1950' s she was already concerned about how urban development might destroy not only the poppy, but also the Joshua tree and many other of our important wildflowers. …

 In 1963 Pinheiro, together with members of the Lancaster Women's Club, including Dorothy Bolt, established the first Antelope Valley Wildflower Center.

In the early 1970s, Jane was sent a copy of a five-year study done by the Resources Agency of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which recommended that the best location for a state park to preserve the state flower was around the Antelope and Fairmont buttes, 14 miles west of Lancaster. In view of this recommendation, the Wildflower Preservation Committee, an ad hoc committee operating as part of the Lancaster Women’s Club, headed by  Dorothy Bolt, took on the task of raising money to buy land for the poppy park.

The Wildflower Preservation Committee undertook many fundraising projects over the years. Dorothy Bolt contacted Mr. Long, President of the State Parks Foundation (a private organization designed to raise money to benefit state parks), and persuaded him of the merits of the project. The foundation set the poppy park as its second highest priority. The committee developed brochures and "I GAVE TO SAVE" decals (designed by Jane) to advertise their efforts. The local schools joined in by starting the "Pennies for Poppies" program. Local school children raised $1,400 by saving up pennies. The state superintendent of schools agreed to make this a statewide program, raising an additional $14,000. People donating to the project were given "deeds" to land. Five dollars "bought" you 300 square feet; $625 bought a whole acre. One brochure suggested donating money in memory of deceased loved ones would be very appropriate. Altogether, the local group raised about $67,000.

The State Parks Foundation received large donations from corporations, totaling $350,000. This money, along with state and federal matching funds, led to the purchase of 1,755 acres on Antelope Butte.

The dedication ceremony-held April 24, 1976--was a bicentennial event where the State Parks Foundation officially turned the land over to the State of California.

During the ceremony it was announced that the interpretive center to be built on the reserve would be called the Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretive Center and that it would house, among other things, the Pinheiro paintings purchased by the Wildflower Preservation Committee, which would be donated to the state.

A fifteen-member Antelope Valley State Parks Advisory Committee was formed with Jane Pinheiro as chair. The purpose of the committee was to provide local input in the development of state parks. After Jane died on October 14, 1978, Milt Stark was elected chair. During his tenure, we developed plans for the interpretive center. The energy-efficient building was dedicated and opened for visitors April 17, 1982. A group known as the Poppy Reserve Interpretive Association (now PR/MDIA, the Poppy Reserve/Mojave Desert Interpretive Association) was organized to operate the gift shop.

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