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World Birding Center HQ Grand Opening Set for Oct. 23-24
MISSION, Texas – The World Birding Center Headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park will host a free grand opening celebration this month to mark the progress of plans begun in 1997 to restore wildlife habitat and promote birding and nature tourism.
The WBC headquarters in Mission is the first of three WBC sites managed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to open. The department will also build and operate the World Birding Center at Estero Llano Grande State Park near Weslaco and the World Birding Center at Resaca de la Palma State Park near Brownsville.
Six other WBC sites are being built and/or operated by local communities in Edinburg, Harlingen, Hidalgo, McAllen, Roma, and South Padre Island.
“The World Birding Center is important for wildlife conservation and sustainable economic development, but its lasting impact may come through youth involvement and education,” said Robert L. Cook, TPWD executive director.
“The Lower Rio Grande Valley is one of the most biologically diverse ecological regions in North America, a critical migratory stopover point for birds that move between the Americas. Yet, more than three quarters of the region’s original wildlife habitat has been replaced by human development. The WBC will showcase ways to restore and protect habitat while providing a tourism destination that puts people directly in touch with nature and wildlife.”
State and local elected officials and other dignitaries will lead a ribbon-cutting at the WBC headquarters at 11 a.m. on Oct. 23 to officially open the facility. Public activities run from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. that Saturday and 1-6 p.m. Sunday, with a variety of fun and educational fare. TPWD is waiving park entrance fees for the grand opening weekend.
Both days begin early (the best time to see birds), with free 8 a.m. bird walks led by internationally known birder and naturalist John Arvin. These will fill on a first-come, first-served basis. Advance registration is required, and interested parties should call (956) 584-9156, ext. 224.
Grand opening visitors can also see birds throughout the weekend at the park’s new Hawk Tower and Resaca Overlook and butterflies in the newly landscaped butterfly garden, with experts on hand to interpret the sights.
A new park tram service will give grand opening visitors free transportation from the new headquarters parking area into the original state park area near the river. Hidalgo Pump House, a WBC site, and Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, one of several outstanding parks and refuges that already exist in the region, will also make available their trams for the grand opening.
The Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville will bring in an alligator, falcon, snakes and other live animals for the public to see. There will also be live music and food and drink at the grand opening. The site’s Texas State Park Store and first-of-its-kind espresso bar will serve beverages to encourage visitors to spend the day.
The Mission headquarters includes an exhibit hall, lecture hall, gift shop, coffee bar and administrative offices on a former 60-acre farm field that is being replanted with native south Texas vegetation. Other headquarters elements include the hawk viewing tower, two bird viewing blinds with water features (shallow ponds) to attract birds, a flooded habitat courtyard and butterfly/hummingbird courtyard, passenger tram service to transport visitors within the park, and miles of hiking trails. The WBC headquarters site now covers 764 acres, including the original 587.7-acre state park, plus 176.2 acres donated by Bentsen Palm Development. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages several hundred adjacent acres that include previously inaccessible areas along the Rio Grande.
New headquarters exhibits to be unveiled at the grand opening focus on water conservation, habitat corridors for wildlife, and the importance of water and habitat for birds. Other panels cover basic information such as how birds fly and the parts of a bird. Michael Gilbreath Communication Design of Fort Worth created the headquarters exhibits in partnership with TPWD experts. Museo de las Aves de Mexico of Saltillo did Spanish translations and provided bird facts for the exhibits.
“Green design” principles have guided all aspects of headquarters development, providing prototypes that TPWD hopes to use in state parks elsewhere across Texas. New facilities designed to recall classic agricultural structures of the region incorporate rainwater collection, passive energy conservation, and sustainable building materials.
Most important, the headquarters emphasizes native plant wildscaping, trails, interpretive signs and other features to attract birds and butterflies and put visitors outdoors and in direct contact with birds and their habitat. The new headquarters visitors center sits on a former row crop farm field that is being replanted with native vegetation.
The approximately $7 million WBC headquarters project owes its existence to many partners. Members of the Texas Legislature and U.S. Congress worked to provide funding and support. TPWD put more than $2 million in state funding and staff time into the project. The City of Mission provided $2 million in cash and in kind services. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service provided a $1.8 million federal grant for the headquarters. The USFWS will also help operate the Roma WBC site. The Texas Department of Transportation contributed a $1.5 million federal TEA-21 grant toward the headquarters. The Meadows Foundation, through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation, donated $600,000. Bentsen Palm Development, which is creating a 2,600-acre planned community next to the headquarters, has donated land, labor and many other contributions.
The Valley economy has benefited from the money spent and workers hired to create the WBC headquarters. New tourism dollars from outside the region will boost those benefits as the headquarters and the other WBC sites evolve. The headquarters is designed to appeal to both avid birders and families and novices looking to experience birding in an internationally known location.
The valley is a migratory pinch point that funnels a “river of birds” through the region on their journeys north in summer and south in winter. It includes the northernmost range for many species native to Mexico and the southernmost range for many U.S. species. To date, the Texas Bird Records Committee and other sources have verified 503 bird species recorded in the region, a number that exceeds any other location of equal size north of the Mexican border. This total represents more than half of all bird species recorded in North America.
For details on the World Birding Center, see the Web site (http://www.worldbirdingcenter.org/) or phone (956) 584-9156.
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