Michael and Tricia Berns, center, stand with California State Parks Director, Major General Anthony Jackson, second from left, and a host of park rangers during Crystal Cove Alliance and California State Parks grand opening of the Berns Environmental Study Loop at Crystal Cove on Friday. (Don Leach, Daily Pilot / January 31, 2014)

The Berns Environmental Study Loop at Crystal Cove State Park opens to the public Saturday with festivities that also kick off a yearlong celebration of the 150th anniversary of California State Parks.

The free event, from 1 to 6 p.m. in Moro Canyon, will give visitors a chance to explore the science stations and participate in hands-on projects. Music, a bonfire and s'mores will also be featured.

The newly constructed half-mile loop, part of a 35-acre restoration project, sits on a site that was once home to a trailer park.

Funded by a $1-million donation from Laguna Beach residents Michael and Tricia Berns, it was built by Crystal Cove Alliance and California State Parks.

The half-mile loop features eight permanent stations that offer visitors a chance to learn about the science of restoration.

"All these little stations bring you into a deeper level of understanding of this environmental resource that we have here, that we are trying to protect and preserve," Alliance founder Laura Davick said.

The idea was to make each station an opportunity for "citizen science," which lets visitors "actually participate in the science of restoring the park," Alliance President Harry Helling said.

"Instead of just doing the science and saying this is what scientists do, citizen science invites you to be part of that monitoring team," Helling explained, noting a station where visitors monitor bird populations.

There, visitors are trained to listen for the California gnatcatcher, and results are recorded to aid research. Scientists track the populations of birds to gauge whether restoration is successful.

Other stations focus on weather, geology and archaeology.

Helling said the loop and science stations should appeal to schools and youth groups like the Boy Scouts of America, adding that the educational approach is in line with Common Core State Standards, a new education initiative.

Saturday's celebration will offer visitors a chance to dive into citizen science by learning about archaeology and animal tracking and helping UC Irvine researchers study how water moves in the canyon.

In addition to the science stations and nature hikes, a watercolor painting class will be offered. T

he Laguna Concert Band will perform at 4 p.m. with composer Pamela Madsen, a professor of music composition at Cal Sate Fullerton, who wrote an "open air" piece specifically for the space.

The festivities will wrap up with the "ultimate campfire" — complete with free s'mores — at 5 p.m.

The event is in the Moro Canyon section of the park. Parking and admission are free.