Catalina Island Conservancy turns 50

Photo by Catalina Island Conservancy/Ranz Navarro All Conservancy members are invited to celebrate the nonprofit’s 50th Anniversary at the Trailhead.

The Catalina Island Conservancy is celebrating 50 years of stewarding Catalina through a balance of conservation, education and recreation. Founders Helen and Philip K. Wrigley, along with Dorothy Wrigley Offield, deeded more than 42,000 acres of the unique Island to the nonprofit Conservancy in 1972, which has been dedicated to its restoration and protection ever since.

Throughout the last half-century, Catalina Island Conservancy has worked to fulfill that mission, with many successes.

The Conservancy opened the Ackerman Native Plant Nursery in 1987, providing an important location to grow plants for Island restoration. There were several conservation successes in 1990s, including the first bald eagle egg hatching through artificial incubation as part of the bald eagle restoration program in partnership with the Institute for Wildlife Studies. The Conservancy assumed management of the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden along with enhanced experiences by instituting walking and vehicle Eco Tours of the island.

The 2000s saw the launch of the fox recovery program, focusing on captive breeding, vaccination and wild fox monitoring after the endemic Catalina Island fox population plummeted due to a canine distemper outbreak. To protect the flora from devastation, non-native goats and pigs were removed from the Island. Nearly 250 bison were repatriated to Native American lands as a unique way to manage the size of the Catalina herd and protect the Island habitat. Later the Conservancy introduced a bison contraception program to control the population of these wild animals.

The Nature Center opened as the Conservancy’s educational gateway to the wildlands and the Catalina Island Conservancy Annual Symposium launched to highlight work from key program staff and Island experts. In 2009 the Trans-Catalina Trail opened, creating the first continuous trail access across the wildlands from east to west, and Airport in the Sky celebrated its 50th anniversary.

In the 2010s, the Education department launched Naturalist training to provide nature-lovers with accurate and compelling information highlighting the ecology of the Island and the work of the Conservancy and followed with the launch of the Last Friday Lecture Series.

The Conservancy enhanced the hiking trails and added various restrooms to the hiking trail network. In 2019, Conservancy’s Airport in the Sky and ACE Clearwater Airfield reopened after a six-month closure that saw the runway enhanced using a creative partnership with the Department of Defense Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program and the U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy Seabees. The Conservancy completed its largest capital campaign that same year by opening the state-of-the-art, LEED Certified Trailhead building and visitor center in Avalon.

Most recently, the Conservancy—along with the rest of the world—was deeply impacted by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The nonprofit adjusted operations, bringing many popular education programs and recreation opportunities online. In conservation, the first live endemic Catalina Island shrew was identified in 15 years and fence repairs occurred in the hills above Whites Landing, a site rich with rare and endemic Island plants. Wrigley Memorial & Botanic Garden enhanced the educational experience with the installation of the new Discovery Trail and signage, addressing commonly asked questions and unique subject matter. And, through a second IRT program opportunity, the Conservancy partnered again with the U.S. Marines for training opportunities to provide enhancements to miles of wildlands roads and watersheds.

Join Catalina Island Conservancy in celebrating its golden anniversary the weekend of July 22. Members are invited to participate in free events and signature activities on July 23 including naturalist-led hikes, Native Plant Nursery tours, an opportunity to learn more about the unique flora of Catalina Island by touring the White’s Landing exclosure and more. Leadership Circle Members can sign up to explore further with complimentary Eco Tours. All those who love Catalina are welcome to participate in Botanic Garden Tours from noon– 3 p.m.

After spending the day exploring the Wildlands, members are invited to get to know the Conservancy’s leadership at the Trailhead Open House with happy hour at Toyon Grill. To become a member visit the Conservancy website. While you’re there, register tp participate in the 50th Anniversary Celebration by navigating to the “Conservancy’s 50th Anniversary” page or contacting