Operators of Living Coast Discovery Center, formerly known as Chula Vista Nature Center, have announced plans to close the facility by year’s end, citing severe budget shortfalls.

Officials said the 26-year-old nature preserve and visitor education center faces a deficit of approximately $200,000 over the next 12 months. If that amount is not received or pledged by the public or local agencies by Oct. 28, the center will close to the public on that date.

A complete shutdown of the center’s conservation and education operations would follow at the end of December.

The city of Chula Vista opened the facility, on the scenic Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, in 1987. Faced with severe budget cuts in fall of 2008, the city at that time decided to close it in June 2009.

However, it was subsequently transitioned to an independent 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, allowing it to remain open for an additional four years. It has relied heavily on continued financial and in-kind support from community members and local businesses, along with the city of Chula Vista, Unified Port of San Diego and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Though we have started to make headway with new educational programming and collaborative research, it would be fiscally irresponsible for us to continue operations without knowing when or if we will see any financial relief,” said Ben Vallejos, the nature center’s chief operating officer, in a statement.

Operators said the center has greeted nearly 70,000 visitors annually, including tourists and more than 15,000 students on school field trips and programs. The center offers hands-on exhibits and up-close encounters with more than 350 plant and animal species native to Southern California coastal habitats.

— SDBJ Staff Report