Mickey Mouse meets Mr. Polar Bear at green theme park

August 10, 2009

Southern California — home to Disneyland, the mother of all amusement parks — welcomed a new attraction this month. But this theme park has no Mickey Mouse or roller coasters and is housed inside a mall instead of spread out over a swath of space.

Called Environmentaland, it is more of an interactive museum that has taken the environment as its theme.

The goal is to show there are “no free rides in life,” said Eric Ritz, executive director of Global Inheritance. The nonprofit opened the self-proclaimed first environmental theme park this month in Hollywood.

“We promote more along the lines of common sense rather than being green,” Ritz said.

Visitors can ride a see-saw on an energy playground to power up their cell phone, putt on a desert mini golf course and fly airplanes from recycled paper. This past weekend, visitors could arm wrestle a polar bear in a climate change quiz challenge for a chance to win prizes.

Ritz, a 36-year-old former advertising executive and long-time activist, started Global Inheritance in 2002. The nonprofit has passion projects, like Environmentaland, but pays the bills through working with companies like Walt Disney’s ESPN and on events like Fox’s Teen Choice Awards.

Ritz admits the name Environmentaland is “kind of preposterous.”

“But that’s the point,” he added.

He said that the name is a play on words that takes on the idea of theme parks, that are the “poster child of excessiveness,” he said.

Visitors who show a bus or subway pass get free admission; otherwise, there is a suggested donation of $3.

Environmentaland is open at the Hollywood & Highland shopping center in Los Angeles through October 2009. In the spring, the nonprofit hopes to take the theme park on the road to malls in cities like Chicago, New York and Boise.

“When we’re placed on the Earth, we have a certain responsibility to give back or evolve in a very positive way. People go and they take and take and take and they don’t give. If that’s what we do, we’re going to be in a very bad shape very soon,” Ritz said.

(Writing and reporting by Laura Isensee)

(Photo credit: Courtesy of Global Inheritance. The nonprofit displayed alternative energy golf carts at Coachella and Stagecoach festivals this year.)

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