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June 2010 cover image 12 Out on the Pier

Park Pick: Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley features creatures

Bentsen’s new nature center lures families into the outdoors.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

At the age of 3, little Emma Taylor can already point out green jays, northern cardinals and Audubon’s orioles on hikes with her parents and younger sisters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission.

“We believe that if you make the outdoors a part of your children’s daily life, then it’ll be ingrained in them for the rest of their lives,” says mom Heather Taylor. “That’s why we think the park’s educational programs are so amazing.”

Connecting kids (and adults) to the outdoors — that’s the No. 1 goal at Bentsen’s new La Familia Nature Center, where exhibits and activities change regularly.

“We want to have something new every week so families will see and experience something different each time they come,” says Jennifer Hall, assistant park superintendent.

Photo by Greg Lasley

“Creature Feature,” a Saturday program that runs from 10 a.m. to noon, teaches kids about different topics, using puppet shows, crafts and games. “One morning, Emma learned about animal tracks,” Taylor says, “so we spent the next week looking for paw prints in our yard.”

At the nature center, visitors can also browse a reference library that houses nearly 300 nature-related books, including field guides and children’s books. “We even have some in Spanish,” Hall says. “Plus, a naturalist is on hand every day at the center to answer people’s questions about plants and animals they see in the park.”

Back to green jays and orioles ... it’s those birds and more that draw most visitors to Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, located along the Rio Grande. More than 325 species have been recorded at the 762-acre birding mecca, one in a network of nine that form the renowned World Birding Center. In addition to observation decks, bird blinds and feeding stations, Bentsen also offers a two-story hawk observation tower and more than eight miles of nature trails that wind through resaca woodlands and thorny brushlands.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is 5 miles southwest of Mission on Bentsen Palm Drive (FM 2062). Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Gift shop and cafe on site; bike rentals available. Primitive camping only. Check the website for programs. For more information, call (956) 584-9156, or visit www.worldbirdingcenter.org/sites/mission

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