Naturally perfect: Facility expected to make area destination for eco-tourism

RAYMONDVILLE — A new $503,000 nature center will feature an observation deck and boardwalk overlooking flocks of shore birds along the banks of the Laguna Madre.

After six years of planning, the Willacy County Natural Coastal Resource Center is expected to make Port Mansfield a destination for eco-tourism.

In a meeting yesterday, Willacy County commissioners voted to request construction bids to build the 1,500-square-foot nature center on county-owned land at Port Mansfield’s Laguna Point Recreation Center off Matagorda Street.

The nature center will feature an office and meeting room that will showcase nature events off the banks of the Laguna Madre.

“It’s a tremendous asset for Port Mansfield,” said John Sterling, vice president of the Port Mansfield Chamber of Commerce. “I’m hoping this will add a new incentive for people to come to Port Mansfield.”

The center will be built next to a popular, new $1.8 million park featuring a 500-foot fishing pier along Port Mansfield’s southern edge.

“It’s really to expose people to nature,” Sterling said of the project.

The center will feature an $80,000 observation deck and a $75,000 boardwalk, said Sally Velasquez, the county’s consultant.

Sterling said the observation deck will overlook the bay.

“From the platform, you’ll be able to see a lot more wildlife,” Sterling said as he stood at the site. “People like me come to see the wildlife. There’s so much here. There are all kinds of birds — all the shore birds.”

Officials plan to use the center to help students learn about the area’s native wildlife and habitat.

Sterling said construction is expected to run from March to September.

Commissioners launched the project after about six years of debate.

At first, officials planned to develop the center on four acres that businessman Joe Wetegrove wanted to donate about 1.5 miles east of Raymondville on State Highway 186.

But officials scrapped initial plans after they found Wetegrove had not donated the land but had transferred the property as a conservation easement, or land that would revert to him if the county did not use it to develop a nature center.