A New Center for Nature
- story by Rebecca Orfila, photos by William Colgin and Rebecca Orfila
South of the intersection of two rivers, under marshland trees and hanging moss, a walking tour is being conducted through a riparian zone in Jackson County, Mississippi. The water of Rhodes Bayou flows gently against the pilings of observation decks that overlook the wetlands and the breeze is light. A fish jumps high from the midst of the bayou. Birds, frogs, insects and other fauna add to the sensory nature of the surroundings with their calls, songs, and chirping.
Beach to Bayou
In October, PRAC celebrated the opening of its visitor’s center, a grand, wooden tree house looking out onto the verdant space. Expansive in size and construction, the center’s interpretive and informational displays include aquariums and terrariums of animals indigenous to the center. The updated facility offers programs and workshops for adults and children.
Topics addressed include the biology and ecology of coastal wetlands, habitat restoration, natural history, plant identification, and local geology. On the outside, along walking trails, interpretive displays serve to guide and inform visitors. Special fishing days and kayaking are also offered (check with PRAC for the current schedule of events). Currently, there is no set fee for visiting PRAC, but donations are accepted.
Mark LaSalle, PRAC’s director, explained during a recent interview and tour, “The programs are habitat based . . . and the new center expands on-site capacities for visitors.” LaSalle, a Mississippi State University (Ph.D) graduate, is tasked with the continued development of the center plus growing the educational and science programs in southern Mississippi. When asked how PRAC benefits the local community and the larger Mississippi Gulf Coast, LaSalle explained that visitors leave with an enhanced awareness of the nature around them. Mozart Dedeaux, curator and education coordinator, supports the hands-on experience for adults and children to learn about their environment.
Ecotourism on the Mississippi Coast is a growing industry and one that incorporates educational sites, such as PRAC. For out-of-town travelers, including winter season visitors, the uniqueness of the Southern coastal environments makes for a new and special experience.
Toddler Tuesdays are currently being held on Tuesdays (Nov. 17-Dec. 15) from 10-11:15 a.m. Adults are required to be present. The Toddler Tuesdays are free for members, $3 per child/per class for non-members, or $12 for five class series for non-members (for additional information or to pre-register, call 228-475-0825 or email email@example.com.
In addition to educational and experiential programs, the center conducts the Audubon Master Naturalist Program, which trains adult volunteers on natural history. A Junior Naturalist pilot program has been conducted in the past for teens between the ages of 14 and 16.
A small gift shop, a conference meeting place, and catering kitchen are also present in the new center. The meeting room can be rented for special events or group meetings. According to Dedeaux, the center will be the site for two future weddings. For additional information on reserving the center for meetings or other events, call 228-475-0825 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By mid-afternoon, the sun moves from overhead, eventually dropping below the tree line across the bayou. Falling tide and an afternoon shower signal the coming end of the day. As the rain abates, the fauna wake and break the quiet with their calls and chirps.