By RAY QUIROGA
South Padre Parade
Since its opening in 2009, the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center (SPI-BNC) has become known as one of the Island’s best kept secrets.
But newly hired manager/marketing director Roberta Jackson would like nothing more than to shed that moniker by making the already popular Island attraction into an absolute “must-visit” destination for not only birders and nature lovers, but for all who reside in and visit the Rio Grande Valley.
In fact, Jackson expects to double the visitors to the center in a year’s time and she expects to do it by utilizing her expertise and background in marketing.
Jackson took the helm of the SPI-BNC in October. Originally from Michigan, she first moved to Texas in 2002 to work in marketing for the cruise industry. Her professional journey then led her to Corpus Christi where she worked in the marketing departments of two radio stations. “The radio stations weren’t exciting for me. They were just an ‘in-the-office’ sort of thing, and that just wasn’t me. I’m go, go, go. I’m always looking for something new… a challenge,” Jackson said.
Coincidentally, Jackson had heard about the job opening at the birding center through friends she had met during her time working for the cruise line. “At that time, we had a ship down here so I was also marketing this area,” Jackson explained. “So I knew a lot of the locals anyways from my past job. It was just about meeting them again and greeting them again.”
Prior to her first interview with the SPI-BNC board, Jackson visited the center and said she was amazed by its grander and beauty of the 10,000 sq. ft. facility and its 4800 linear feet walking trail overlooking the bay and featuring seven blinds. “I walked the boardwalk and fell in love with it. It’s beautiful; it’s amazing,” Jackson said.
On its 50 acres near the SPI Convention Centre, the SPI-BNC presents a microcosm of the rich habitats that contribute to the Lower Laguna Madre. Dune meadows, salt marshes and intertidal flats are all represented here, along with thickets of native shrubs and trees that are irresistible to migrating birds.
According to the World Birding Center website, South Padre Island is a crucial first landfall – a lifesaver – for birds making an arduous cross-Gulf migration from Southern Mexico and northern Central America.
The center is a non-profit organization created by the South Padre Island’s Economic Development Corporation in response to the researched desires of Island residents and visitors.
As one of the nine World Birding Center sites located within the lower Rio Grande Valley, the center’s primary goal is to provide a one-of-a-kind birding opportunity coupled with interpretive tours of the site and educational opportunities to learn about birds and birding on South Padre Island.
The center offers morning bird walks as well as programs/lectures by area naturalists, and scientists.
Inside, the three story facility, the center offers a gift shop, viewing tower on the third floor and interactive nature displays on the second floor as well as an outdoor deck and spacious meeting rooms that can be rented by the public. In fact, the entire facility can be rented for many types of engagements including weddings.
The center is located at 6801 Padre Boulevard. Volunteer opportunities are available. Admission prices range from $2-$5 dependent upon age. Children four years of age and younger can enter free with a paid adult.
The birding center is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. daily with the Board Walks & Nature Trails Open seven days a week with paid admission, 30 minutes before sunrise and 30 minutes after sunset (Turn style system available for credit card payment). For more information, call (956) 243-8179.