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New Nature Trail at The Nat to Open Summer 2024

January 29, 2024

Cornerstone of year-long 150th anniversary celebration is gift to the community

San Diego—The Nat’s anniversary year kicked off last Friday with the official groundbreaking of a new, native plant garden—Nature Trail at The Nat. This project is a cornerstone of the Museum’s sesquicentennial—150 years of studying, protecting, and bringing people closer to nature. 

The 22,000-square-foot outdoor exhibit, scheduled to open in early summer, will introduce visitors to the beautiful and beneficial native plants that support the incredible diversity of life in our region.

“The garden will be a gift to the community that has supported us for almost 150 years, and it also marks our 150 years of commitment to nature and people in San Diego,” explained Judy Gradwohl, the Christy Walton President and CEO at the San Diego Natural History Museum. “We are delighted to welcome more biodiversity into Balboa Park, inspire visitors about water conservation, and share the importance of our region’s native plants, insects, birds, and other wildlife.” 

Park supporters and guests were on hand as elected officials and Museum and Park leaders “turned dirt” to signify the start of the project. Among those at the celebration were Raymond Welch, Tribal Chairman, Barona Band of Mission Indians; Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins; Mayor Todd Gloria; San Diego City Councilmember Stephen Whitburn; longtime Balboa Park volunteer Betty Peabody; former California State Representative Christine Kehoe; and more. 

This free amenity will serve as the centerpiece of a new outdoor education initiative to teach fifth graders about regional biodiversity in Balboa Park. It’s also an opportunity for all Park visitors to learn the importance of planting native and about Kumeyaay knowledge of and uses for native plants. Portions of the Nature Trail’s interpretive signage and online content are being developed in partnership with the Barona Cultural Center and Museum and the youth at Barona Indian Charter School.

“We appreciate the staff at the Museum reaching out, and I am grateful to Barona’s youth for continuing to educate the greater public about our way of knowing,” said Barona Tribal Chairman Raymond Welch. “It builds trust so we can continue to grow together and share with all your visitors that WE are still here. Peyii Enyewaay Esekaayches!”

“I want to congratulate the Natural History Museum on their 150th anniversary,” Mayor Todd Gloria said. “San Diegans are fortunate that The Nat has chosen to create these gardens as a gift to the public, and the City is very grateful. Balboa Park is such a cherished retreat for San Diegans, and these new gardens are a wonderful example of an investment that will enhance the public’s enjoyment of the Park for years to come.” 

The Nature Trail is made up of pocket gardens and interpretive paths that will surround the building with living displays featuring native and low-water plants. Different areas will focus on different themes, such as drought tolerant plants and container gardening. The pocket garden featuring pollinator-loving plants will honor Betty Peabody, 50-year-plus Balboa Park volunteer and a founder of Friends of Balboa Park. 

The Nature Trail is made possible through private and public philanthropy and partnerships with the City of San Diego Parks and Recreation Department, Spurlock Landscape Architects, and plant and garden advisors throughout the region.

For those who want to stay in the know on anniversary events and activities, the Museum is inviting people to visit their website, sign up for email updates, or follow them on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok

About the San Diego Natural History Museum 

The San Diego Natural History Museum (The Nat) is one of California’s oldest and most respected cultural and scientific institutions. Founded in 1874 by a small group of citizen scientists, the Museum works to preserve and protect this amazing place we call home. The Museum is located at 1788 El Prado, San Diego, CA 92101 in Balboa Park. For more information, call 877.946.7797 or visit 


Garden renderings and groundbreaking photos available on Dropbox

Press Kit

Media Info

For media inquiries or interview requests, please contact: 

Toni Robin, TR/PR Public Relations,, 858.483.3918 
Rebecca Handelsman, Senior Director of Communications & Exhibits,, 619.206.3408