The planned improvements include an observation deck, classroom space and interactive exhibits on wetland restoration, oil spills and more. The grant money will also cover design and permitting for a trail that would run alongside the Magnolia Marsh, although Smith said the Wetlands Conservancy will need to apply for another grant to build the trail and put in signage.
Greg Gauthier, a project manager for the Coastal Conservancy, said the project impressed his group because it would allow visitors both to learn about the wetlands and to see them up close.
"It will be a unique place where they can learn about the wetlands in the exhibit and then go out there and maybe help with some plantings, but certainly make that connection with the real-world environment," he said.
The grant was one of 20 the state group gave out in September, Gauthier said.
The two conservancies have a long history of working together, as the former has helped Smith and his colleagues obtain and restore Huntington Beach wetlands for more than two decades. In 2006, the Coastal Conservancy provided part of the funding for the construction of the Wetlands & Wildlife Care Center.
While the Wetlands Conservancy hopes to entice local school groups to visit the improved center, Smith also expects to lure out-of-towners. Recently, he said, a concierge at the Hilton Waterfront Beach Resort called his office and asked where guests could tour the wetlands.
According to Steve Bone, the president and chief executive of the Huntington Beach Marketing and Visitors Bureau, interest in the city's native lands isn't a rare occurrence. His group often spotlights the local wetlands in promotional materials and recently appointed Smith to its board as an environmental representative.
The renovated center would provide Surf City with another tourist spot, Bone said.
"We have always promoted the wetlands in Huntington Beach as a destination," he said. "It makes an ideal destination for the birders and those interested in ecology."