My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's Here - Maybe the Best Visitor Center in the United States

Anahuac staff and volunteers held the public grand opening of the new office complex and visitor center Saturday, May 7th. All I can say is prepare to be blown away.  There are wonderful displays depicting how the staff manages the refuge to optimize habitat for the ducks and songbirds that depend on it. You can enter an alligator's nest and learn all about alligators and how they reproduce. There is a movie room where you  climb into an airboat to watch a movie.  Soon there will be one about how the refuge looks in the winter and spring.  You can use a touch screen to find out all kinds of stuff about any National Wildlife Refuge in the United States.  And  you can even enter the birds you saw, by unit, into ebird, using a touch screen, as well as check out birds you thought you saw but need help identifying. There is a huge lab that served as a speaker room during the grand opening.  (Photography 101, birding 101, binocular use and other topics were covered by volunteer speakers). But usually this will be used  by the education arm of the refuge.  Children are bused in to learn something about birds, fish, the environment - there are special lessons geared to each grade.  The activities are hands-on so a lab situation is ideal, along with the outdoor classroom around a pond.

Watch for this sign
The building itself is also interesting. It has been built to be as green as possible. Some of the electricity is generated with solar panels on the roof.  All hot water is heated on the roof before being piped to the kitchen and  bathrooms. Rainwater is collected into a huge tank and the overflow  from that will go into renewing the education pond. Each room can  be separately programed for air conditioning or heating so only the offices that are being used are heated or cooled. The air conditioners are super efficient and also so quiet that you can't hear them, even when standing near them. And very little artificial light is needed most days because there is a large, windowed cupola over each section of the building that light the interiors.  The building is covered with thick rock which also makes it stay closer to a constant temperature - it cools and heats slowly from changes in the outside temperatures.

The new administration office on your left and visitor and education centers on the right
And it's extremely beautiful. The layouts, the colors of the walls, the beautiful glassy looking counter tops, along with the architecture all make for a beautiful, soothing space.  And the gift shop is maybe three times larger than the little building that is currently being used at Old Anahuac. The building is made of two wings, one for the staff and one for visitors and education with a breezeway in between that also has displays.I think ithe breezeway also keeps the building from being overwhelming and helps it fit into the landscape better.  The landscaping also holds a promise of beauty, provided we get enough water to keep it all alive. It is comprised of a collection of native plants, from trees to shrubs.

Looking at displays - Lu was the first  volunteer to manage the gift shop

Panels of the wall that locks off the nature store when it is closed

One of the exhibits

Kay and Carol visit at the information desk.  The store is in the background

But beyond the building itself is the site. A boardwalk leads from the breezeway across the education pond to wind it's way downhill through a mixed pine/hardwood forest, typical of East Texas.  Then you move through a sharp downhill turn, in a section of the boardwalk that has sides, and find yourself looking to the right at pine trees and to the left at cypress trees. In a few more yards you are on a raised boardwalk over a cypress swamp, listening to prothonotary warblers sing,  while seeing ibis feeding and yellow-crowned night herons sleeping.  Then in another few minutes of walking, the swamp meets the shoreline of Lake Anahuac and the cypress trees are now growing in water at the edge of the lake. All this happens in about a quarter of a mile.  These areas will  be great for migrating warblers and vireos and in the winter, great rafts of ducks will be on the lake. Saturday, some of the visitors got to see a bald eagle flying over the lake and headquarters.

The trail winds through a mixed pine/hardwood forest to the changeover at the rails

A few steps further it crosses a cypress swamp
This area held night herons, ibis, and prothonotary warblers
The boardwalk ends just before the edge of Lake Anahuac.  An eagle was spotted here several times. 

The headquarters is located at 4017 FM 563, which is about 1.5 - 2 miles south of I-10 on the Liberty/Anahuac exit. Coming from Houston, you can take this exit, visit the headquarters, then go to the next four-way stop sign and turn east (left)  In another mile or so, you will turn south (right) and you'll be on the road to Smith Point and Anahuac NWR that you usually take down to the refuge..