County receives $1.2 million for eco-tourism center

HARLINGEN — Twin grants from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission have moved a county eco-tourism center closer to liftoff.

The grants to Cameron County total $1.25 million on a 50-50 match to establish or enhance parklands in the state.

The funds, which were part of a $16 million package released by TPWD, are a $500,000 non-urban outdoor grant and a $750,000 indoor grant.

Both will be used to develop the South Texas Eco-Tourism Center on FM 100 in Laguna Vista, where construction will start this summer.

“The South Texas Eco-Tourism Center will act as an information hub to direct visitors to the myriad of other outstanding nature designations in the Valley, including county parks, state parks, federal wildlife refuge parks and others,” said Cameron County Judge Eddie Trevino Jr. “Additionally, it will provide environmental educational opportunities and protect 10 acres of coastal prairie habitat adjacent to the Bahia Grande Unit of the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.”

Land for the eco-tourism center was provided by the City of Laguna Vista, which plans a related commercial development on the other 13 acres of the plot on the south side of FM 100.

The eco-tourism center will feature wetlands, ponds, an amphitheater, nature trails, observation decks, photo blinds and more. Structures planned at the site will provide classrooms, interpretive exhibits, rain catchment and grey water harvesting system and passive lighting and cooling systems.

“Visitors will not only obtain information on other destinations, they will find discovery opportunities and a unique look at the ecology and wildlife of coastal Cameron County,” said Cameron County Commissioner David A. Garza.

Ground-breaking at the site will occur in summer. County officials say the venue tax passed by Cameron County voters in 2016 will close the funding gap for the project.

“This is an exciting project and we look forward to breaking ground in the near future,” said County Parks Director Joe E. Vega.

“In addition to the economic benefits of eco-tourism, this project will be another opportunity for recreational and educational experiences, which will benefit and improve the quality of life for the residents and visitors of Cameron County.”

Elsewhere in the Valley, South Padre Island received a $500,000 grant to further develop John L. Tompkins Park and the City of Elsa was awarded a $500,000 grant for its Community Trail Park project.

MORE INFO

South Texas Eco-Tourism Center

LOCATION — FM 106 in Laguna Vista

WHEN — Construction starts this summer

COST — $8 million

DEVELOPER — Cameron County

Amenities

Nature trails

Interpretive play stations

Picnic sites

Environmental education amphitheater

Birding overlooks

Photo blinds

Butterfly gardens

Rain-harvesting system

Wetlands

Visitor/nature center

Classrooms

Exhibit, meeting space