The World Birding Center, a network of nine Rio Grande Valley parks and nature centers dedicated to avian conservation and education, has won national recognition from the Society of American Travel Writers for promoting eco-friendly travel.
SATW, at its recent national convention in Guadalajara, Mexico, awarded one of five Phoenix Awards to the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. TPWD spearheaded a 10-year effort by the state and local governmental entities to boost nature tourism by preserving critical birding habitat and developing nine WBC sites stretching from Roma to South Padre Island.
“Congratulations to everyone who has worked so hard to make the World Birding Center a world-class project,” said Scott Boruff, TPWD’s deputy executive director of operations. “Obviously, others are recognizing it as a creative and innovative model to promote conservation and recreation through broad-scale partnerships.”
SATW judges complimented the WBC project for “excellence in all areas” and its success at building community relations and stimulating tourism in an area of low employment.
“The World Birding Center is presented as an outstanding environmental, conservational and educational project …,” one judge wrote. “This is an ambitious project worthy of international recognition for preserving wetlands conducive to birdlife and impacting the migratory ease of birds.”
SATW, the nation’s premier travel organization, established the Phoenix Award 40 years ago to recognize individuals, communities or organizations that have contributed to a quality travel experience through environmental, beautification, conservation and preservation efforts. SATW member Kathryn Straach, a former Texas-based freelance travel writer, nominated TPWD and the WBC for the Phoenix Award.
TPWD operates the $7 million World Birding Center headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park near Mission, as well as two other WBC sites — Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco and Resaca de la Palma State Park in Brownsville. Six other WBC sites are operated by local communities in Edinburg, Harlingen, Hidalgo, McAllen, Roma and South Padre Island.
The Rio Grande Valley has, arguably, the greatest biodiversity of any area in North America with 519 bird species having been recorded there. Nature tourism is one of the Valley’s top economic engines, generating roughly $125 million in revenues annually for local communities.