The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service will build a new Environmental Education Building at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge near Tallahassee, Florida, using nearly $1 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, popularly known as stimulus funds.
“This new building is going to make it possible to expand our environmental education outreach programs, both to the thousands of school children who visit the refuge annually and to the community in general,” said supervisory refuge ranger Robin Will. “In addition, it’s going to be a big boost to the economy of the area when our contractor and sub-contractors start hiring local workers.”
The Service has awarded a stimulus fund contract to Far East Construction Company of Connecticut for $995,267 for work at St. Marks. The contract includes $963,562 for the new building and $31,705 to renovate a popular saltwater boat ramp in the refuge.
When the new building is completed next summer, it will be approximately 4,000 square feet and include two classrooms. “One classroom will be for our student population, with cubbies and work stations and a wet lab and bright colors,” said Will. “The other will be professional with screens, projectors, a conference table and chairs.”
St. Marks is already one of the most visited wildlife refuges in the national system, attracting more than 250,000 visitors annually. Established in 1931 to provide wintering habitat for migratory birds, it encompasses 68,000 acres spread out over Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor counties along the Gulf Coast of northwest Florida. The refuge includes coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks and estuaries of seven north Florida rivers, and is home to a diverse community of plant and animal life. The refuge is home to the St. Marks Lighthouse, which was built in 1832 and is still in use today. Six rangers work at the refuge providing education for children through adults, including programs like the Citizen Science initiative.
“We truly feel that this building will belong to the people,” Will added. “We hope to make this a community building that would be open in the evenings so we could provide adult lecture series, fun programs and activities.”
The new building will also hold several wildlife exhibits, currently in the refuge’s visitor center. It will be built on 15-foot pilings to prevent flooding, the same level as the visitor center, and the two will be connected by an elevated boardwalk. The new building will also have a lift to make it compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
In addition to the building, stimulus funds will pay for renovation of a saltwater boat ramp that allows boaters access into Apalachee Bay. It’s currently used by 50,000 visitors a year.
“People have been begging us for a better ramp for years, and those people have been paying entrance fees very patiently,” said Will. “They’re going to be very excited when it’s done.”
The Recovery Act provides $280 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which includes $115 million for construction, repair and energy efficiency retrofit projects at Service facilities, and $165 million for habitat restoration, deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects. Projects help create local jobs in the communities where they are located and around the United States, while stimulating long-term employment and economic opportunities for the American public. Recovery Act projects address long-standing priority needs identified by the Service through its capital planning process. The agency worked through a rigorous merit-based process to identify and prioritize investments meeting the criteria put forth in the Recovery Act: namely, that a project addresses the Department’s highest priority mission needs; generates the largest number of jobs in the shortest period of time; and creates lasting value for the American public.
For a full list of funded projects nationwide, go to the Department’s Recovery web site at http://recovery.doi.gov/. For a list of Service projects, click on the Service’s logo at the bottom of the page or visit http://recovery.doi.gov/press/bureaus/us-fish-and-wildlife-service. The public will be able to follow the progress of each project on the recovery web site, which includes an interactive map that allows the public to track where and how the Department’s recovery dollars are being spent. In addition, the public can submit questions, comments or concerns at email@example.com.
More information: http://www.fws.gov/saintmarks/