State and local leaders joined Audubon's Jay Woods, vice president and executive director of Audubon Mississippi, and Dr. Mark LaSalle, center director, in hanging seed, suet and hummingbird feeders to signify the start of the project's construction phase.
The Pascagoula River flows unimpeded and largely unspoiled thanks to decades of conservation efforts in the region, making it unique in the lower 48 states, a distinction highlighted by several speakers and by Audubon President and CEO David Yarnold in a statement.
"The Pascagoula River is wet and wild all the way from its headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico," said Yarnold. "It's the only one left of its kind, and it's a way of life for the people of Mississippi. We're proud to work with this community to promote the enjoyment and conservation of this beautiful Singing River."
"Singing River" is a local name for the river and the title of a documentary film about the river, its history and its ecosystems.
The new facility will promote Audubon's conservation goals within the river basin, including areas designated by Audubon as Important Bird Areas. The center is also poised to serve a key role in the emerging science-based conservation and restoration strategies Audubon is developing for the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi Flyway.
The center will continue operations from its temporary location while construction of the new facility proceeds. The new center is expected to open in early 2013. Meanwhile, center staff, the local community, the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society and nature enthusiasts from across the region are gearing up for the Pascagoula River Nature Festival this spring and for Least Tern colony stewardship efforts on a nearby beach.
Also present at the event were Trudy Fisher, director of the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, which provided a grant toward construction of the new center, representatives from Chevron, which supports the center's programming and construction of the new facility, representatives from the office of U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, who assisted the center in obtaining a grant toward construction, and many individual donors who support the center's construction and ongoing activities.
Senator Cochran and former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour sent their congratulations on the project in prepared statements.
"The Pascagoula River ecosystem is one of Mississippi's many jewels," said former Governor Barbour. "By preserving this special area, we now have a one-of-a-kind destination for our residents and the many visitors each year interested in seeing the wildlife variety in this undisturbed system. Having a first-class education center will only enhance the nature tourism opportunities for the Mississippi Gulf Coast."