The Desert Studies Center is as colorful
as its notorious history and Zzyzx’s first developer. (See
story on page 21.) Yet today, it is dedicated to serious science
and community service.
Established in 1976 under a cooperative management
agreement with the Department of the Interior, it is operated for
the California State University by the California Desert Studies
Consortium, an organization of seven CSU campuses: Dominguez Hills,
Fullerton, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Northridge, Pomona and San Bernardino.
Facilities are available to educational institutions, government
agencies and public or private groups. Cal State Fullerton faculty
members have been directing or coordinating studies at the center
almost from the beginning.
The resort began its shift to becoming a scientific
resource in 1974, when the notorious Curtis Howe Springer era ended
and Cal State San Bernardino biologist Dalton Harrington first proposed
the concept of a Desert Studies Center on the site. Through the
efforts of Harrington and James Crum, dean of the university’s
School of Natural Sciences, negotiations were begun with the Bureau
of Land Management (BLM) concerning the vacated buildings and surrounding
land. In 1976, the BLM signed a cooperative management agreement
with the consortium to manage 1,280 acres.
Cal State Fullerton faculty members and graduate students
were instrumental in bringing the dream of the center to fruition.
Lon McClanahan, emeritus professor of biological science, was an
early director. William Presch, professor of biological science
and an expert in desert reptiles, has directed the center since
1991. Last spring, Interior Secretary Gail Norton appointed Presch
to the BLM’s Desert District Advisory Council as a public-at-large
Rob Fulton, who participated in work parties to refurbish
the facility while a graduate student, is the center’s only
resident manager and has lived there for 17 years. Fullerton students
are the facility’s heaviest users and typically travel to
the site for course study in ecology, ecophysiology, biology, geography,
geology and science education.