Ominous clouds rolled into view last weekend, and all the rain poured down all Saturday. However, that didn’t keep the crowd from joining in on the fifth anniversary celebration at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.
Over 150 guests came through the doors to commemorate the special occasion and were happy to find the Center with its many indoor activities and exhibits. Free admission and refreshments were enjoyed all day for the celebratory open house.
Birding Center volunteer and SPI councilperson Alita Bagley directed people to a large enclosure near the entrance, where Jojo, a Catlina Macaw, was on display for visitors. Jojo allowed Bagley to remove her from the cage, preening and ruffling its feathers as she gently held the Macaw – the first bird ever to be housed at the Center.
The Center, a non-profit facility, was built to showcase the unique bird sightings found in the Rio Grande Valley. It is one of nine locations that form the World Birding Center (WBC), which is comprised of three state parks and five other birding centers along a 120-,ile long route from Roma on the west to SPI on the east.
Before its grand opening in September 2009, the Birding and Nature Center was a project 10 years in the making. The idea was established in 1999 through collaboration between Texas Parks and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and nine Valley communities, before being adopted by the Economic Development Corporation of South Padre Island in 2000. With the major acquisition of 43 acres of land on the west side of the Island in 2003, The Birding and Nature Center became more than many anticipated. Inside the five-story building, visitors can view exhibits, participate in crafts, play games and browse through the gift shop. The tower offers a bird’s eye view of the sprawling boardwalk with its natural wildlife and native wetland plants, which was enhanced by a recent $375,000 grant from the Coastal Impact Assistance Program.
South Padre Island was a fitting destination for the Birding and Nature Center, because directly across the Laguna Madre lies the Laguna Atascosa Refuge, which is believed to attract the greatest number of bird species in the nation.
Cristin Howard, Director of the Center, was on hand Saturday talking to visitors, cutting cake, and enjoying the day along with many tourists and members of the community. As a self-proclaimed “beginner birder,” Howard participated in the Texas Master Naturalist Program to gain knowledge about conservation of natural resources and natural areas within the lower Rio Grande Valley.
Almost a year ago, she came to the Birding and Nature Center to take over as the manager and director of marketing. She has made many improvements in the management of the Center over the past year yet attributes the success of the center to the volunteers. Howard said, “Volunteers are the key to the success of the birding center. Without the volunteers, this place would not be what it is today.”
The Center is always in need of more volunteers, and Howard encourages both seasoned and new birders, like her, to take part in all that the Center has to offer.
When discussing future plans for the Birding and Nature Center, Howard said they will be sticking to their mission statement which puts the focus on education. “I want to educate the children, the locals, and the visitors.” With education as their primary goal, Howard has many events in mind for the future. She plans to increase wintertime activities by hosting movies, workshops, and bringing in local artists. Howard also hopes to make arrangements for a monthly Family Fun Day and sees a birding festival on the horizon.
The Board of Directors and volunteers are currently working on ideas for an annual signature fundraiser. When it came to ideas for the future, Howard said, “I could go on and on. We have a new board, a new spirit, and a new drive, and it is very very positive. We want everyone to come and share it. We’re just ready to grow, do something positive, and have an impact on the community.”
Saturday’s anniversary celebration was considered a success. It was a tribute to the progress that has been made over the past five years and a look into what’s to come.
In addition, the Center will also be presenting a Halloween Zombie Walk from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 31. Admission is free and there will be pumpkin carving contest, costume contest, prizes, and finger food. Donations are encouraged and accepted.
The South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center building is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The boardwalks are open with a weekly, monthly, or annual pass. For more information, call 956-761-6801 or visit southpadreislandbirding.com.
Abbey Kunkle & Pamela Cody