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Urban Escape

New Audubon center in Dallas helps young and old connect with nature.

By Barbara Rodriguez

The new Trinity River Audubon Center is for the birds. Less predictably, it's also for the turtles, snakes, lizards, opossums and – most of all – their human neighbors. And if the Audubon name evokes images of sensible shoes, life lists and binoculars, the new center is proof that the Audubon family – and mission – is spectacularly more broad than clichéd perceptions of birdwatchers past.

The $10.8 million partnership between Dallas and the environmental organization has borne fruit in a facility poised to captivate entire families with a multi-generational appeal that's rare in wildlife and conservation centers.

A mere eight minutes from downtown, the 120-acre facility opens this month as an educational gateway to the 6,000-acre Great Trinity Forest, the largest urban hardwood forest within an American city's limits. Visitors to this impressive urban backyard will find the center's 21,000-square-foot interpretive center to be southeast Dallas' most welcoming back porch.

Broad decks and suspended walkways seem to float around the soaring LEED-certified (sustainable) building designed by award-winning architect Antoine Predock. The cypress siding and vegetative roof of native grasses seem an extension of the natural environment, as do expanses of stamped moss-green concrete walls and floors. The design is drawn from a gliding bird – the exhibition and office spaces its gracefully arched wings, the overhang of the main entrance the split tail, the entire building pitched to skim the ponds and wetlands that surround it.

The center was constructed upon a reclaimed dump – a nasty, ugly, illegal dump many years in the making – so the architect may have drawn inspiration from the phoenix; what has risen from the ash of neglect is a radiant facility thoughtfully designed for a long, service-filled life. The exhibition hall features easily digestible lessons in conservation and science through interactive exhibits (including a hands-on, floodable model of the Trinity River), view tubes and cubby holes where little ones can curl up on a window shelf to ponder the great outdoors.

Wherever you go the walls of windows and breezes draw you in, exhibitions and programs open your eyes and views entice you outside again for more informed first-person encounters with nature along four miles of trails through restored prairie, wetland and bottomland forest habitats.

The center's educational programs are dedicated to serving all comers, but especially those attending the Title 1 schools of southeast Dallas. Audubon has committed to raise $5 million in scholarship funds to provide its neighbors with free outdoor learning programs designed to create a new generation of conservationists.

As Linda Perryman Evans said when announcing a $1 million gift from the Meadows Foundation to complete construction funding for the project, "The center will be a flagship for Audubon and the community – a place where people will come to connect with nature and begin a journey to lifelong stewardship of our planet." Sensible shoes are optional.

For more information on the grand opening, memberships, volunteer opportunities and upcoming programs, visit www.trinityriveraudubon.org or call (214) 370-9735.

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