By: Kim Vetter of CHART
The Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on FM 563 in Wallisville.
Touch an alligator hide. Learn about the mystery of migration. And, take a ride through the Southeast Texas marsh on an airboat used to during the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
You can do all of this and more at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center on Farm To Market Road 563 in Wallisville. My 2-year-old daughter and I recently spent a couple of hours at the center and had a blast.
Before going inside, we – OK, mainly I – learned a lot about the refuge and its surroundings from several colorful outdoor displays. My daughter, meanwhile, joyfully pointed to the ground and shouted, “OCEAN,” since the concrete beneath her feet was painted blue to resemble the nearby Gulf of Mexico.
Outdoor displays at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
After about 10 minutes of exploring and a potty break (the public restrooms at the center are very clean), we decided to go inside and check out what the visitor center had to offer, which is a lot.
The center’s main room is full of wildlife exhibits and environmental education kiosks.
A Red-Tailed Hawk hangs above a kiosk about chenier woodlots while a Great Egret sneaks behind a patch of cordgrass mounted on a display about saltwater marsh.
Nearby, various songbirds perch on a cartoon-like tree that’s part of an exhibit about migration. The exhibit includes a small wetland packed with ducks and shorebirds.
Two prominently displayed exhibits cover tools for a healthy habitat, how humans continually reshape the landscape around them, and the unintended consequences of non-native species.
My daughter’s favorite spread, however, was tucked neatly in a corner and was about the American alligator.
Called the Alligator Incubator, the camouflage hut has two alligator hides hanging from one of its walls, an alligator skull on another, and several educational displays describing the reptile’s life cycle.
Visitors can take with them a brochure chock full of fun alligator facts such as the longest documented alligator was taken in 1890 from Louisiana and measured 19 feet 2 inches long and weighed nearly 2,000 pounds.
One of several exhibits at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
In an adjoining room next to the Alligator Incubator, is where visitors can experience a simulated airboat ride through the refuge’s fresh and saltwater marshes.
The eight-minute ride wasn’t working when my daughter and I were there but the volunteer on duty described the ride as both action-packed and tranquil.
The first half of the ride is fast and weaves in and out of various parts of the marsh, highlighting its wildlife, the volunteer said. The second half is slower and showcases the marsh’s habitat.
Both sound fun and are something I hope to do with my daughter during another trip to the visitor center.
As for the rest of our recent trip, we spent it at the center’s gift shop. My daughter flipped through books and played with stuffed animals while I chatted with the volunteer.
During my conversation with her and after some suggested subsequent reading, I learned the visitor center replaced one that was destroyed in 2008 by Hurricane Ike.
The center opened in May 2011 and was built with $4million of Recovery Act money. Sitting on 16 acres about 30 miles outside of Houston, the visitors center is part of a larger complex that houses employees from the Texas Chenier Plain National Wildlife Refuge Complex as well as the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge.
The complex is LEED Silver Certified, meaning its construction rating on a points system by the U.S. Green Building Council, exceeds mandated guidelines for efficient and energy saving design, construction and post-construction commission.
The landscape surrounding the complex is in pristine condition as well and is welcoming to visitors who want to explore it.
Just behind the outdoor displays near the visitor center’s entrance is a quarter-mile trail that snakes through the Cypress swamp that hugs Lake Anahuac. For more information about the trail go to http://chamberswild.com/?p=1617.
For more information about the visitor center – which is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a half-hour lunch break from 12 to 12:30 – call (409) 267-3337.
For more stories like this, visit http://chamberswild.com/