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New Pearland nature center is safe space for wildlife

May 24, 2019

Families looking for something to do outdoors in Pearland can find their own wildlife-themed adventures at the Delores Fenwick Nature Center.

Visitors can view a rookery of waterbirds and see wildlife including Han and Chewie, the nature center’s two American alligators.

Named after Delores Fenwick, who led the Keep Pearland Beautiful nonprofit organization for over a decade in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the $3 million center opened in March at the John Hargrove Environmental Center Complex, 5750 Magnolia St.

While the center’s director, Cullen Ondracek, said that the Pearland center and the nonprofit Armand Bayou Nature Center in Pasadena are both oases of wildlife preservation in the middle of suburban sprawl, he points out that the Pearland center is a municipal facility that operates under the city’s natural resources division, which works to conserve and enhance native wildlife and natural areas with various public projects.

But the key components of wildlife and habitat preservation and community education, Ondracek said, are the same between the two nature centers.

“We believe that this center helps provide information, awareness and opportunities for visitors to engage with nature, which leads to a better understanding and appreciation of our local ecosystem, which ultimately leads to a more conservation-minded community,” Ondracek said.

In a 2018 interview with the Journal, Fenwick praised the city’s efforts to create a safe space for nature to thrive undisturbed.

Visitors can rest in an open-air pavilion or walk along a boardwalk trail, fish at a pier, picnic on the grounds and take in educational displays as well as a three-wall mural by Galveston-based artist Gabriel Prusmack that depicts colorful wildlife.

Educational features include demonstration gardens to teach how to cultivate sustainable native plants, interactive exhibits as well as opportunities to participate in workshops and field trips.

One center feature is a 720-gallon aquarium with regional fish, including a large spotted gar.

Visitors also can get a close look at gators Han and Chewie, which are used in educational presentations.

“When inside, visitors get to engage in hand-on learning with educational displays but also get to see local wildlife in a way that is usually not possible,” Ondracek said.

Thriving rookery

Outdoors are trails offering an up-close look at indigenous wildlife.

One of the more unique features on the grounds is a rookery, or a colony of breeding waterbirds.

“These rookeries are very special in that these waterbirds nest in large colonies with nests packed tight in trees and shrubs,” Odracek said. “They usually require very specific conditions to establish a rookery, such as they often seek islands to protect their nests from predators such as raccoons. Our site fits the bill as the large ponds have three islands with many trees growing on them to provide ideal site conditions for the birds.”

According to Ondracek, these colonies are overseen and observed by local, state and federal agencies as sensitive and critical nesting sites for several species.

A recent count indicates that the rookery has nine species of nesting colonial waterbirds, including great blue heron, neotropic cormorant, snowy egret, great egret, little blue heron, cattle egret, tricolored heron, white ibis, and roseate spoonbill.

That’s approximately 225 adult pairs (meaning 450 adult birds), with possibly two or three chicks per nest and, according to Ondracek, “that adds up to a lot of birds packed into these small islands.”

The project was funded through a 2007 city bond for $3 million, and a $2.5 million contract for construction was awarded in 2017, including an appropriation of $480,000 from the city’s Park Development Fund.

The center will have an expansive reach through its educational, environmental and community programs, Ondracek said.

“Quality environmental education is what we strive to provide out of the nature center,” he said.

The city is working on additional features and envisions fostering an ever-evolving wildlife preservation sanctuary.

“I don’t know if I will ever say it is fully completed as we plan to continuously add and change features to the center over time,” Odracek said. “Our goal is to keep experiences fresh so that people will want to come back to visit again and again.”

The center is hosting a public event from 1:30-4:30 p.m. on Friday, May 24 that will include outdoor games and activities for families.

yorozco@hcnonline.com

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