“We are extremely excited that the first phase of our new nature center is now complete,” said Refuge Manager Daniel Clark. “However, the work is only just beginning as we continue to move forward to open our doors in the summer of 2018 pending funding. Our vision for this nature center is a community gathering place for both locals and visitors where they can learn about the many special plants and animals that can only be found in the Florida Keys. We look forward to continuing to work with the community and our many partners to build this new nature center together,” said Clark.
The new nature center was in the Complex’s Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP). CCPs specify a management direction over 15 years and outlines goals, objectives, and strategies for improving refuge conditions. The CCP for the Lower Keys refuges, which include National Key Deer Refuge, Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, and Key West National Wildlife Refuge, was approved in 2009. The environmental assessment for the nature center was completed in 2016. The first part of the project began with the laying of the building pillars, parts of a sidewalk, parking for those with disabilities, and public bathroom foundation. The building was completed in February of this year. The cost of the building itself and construction was $210,180.
The new nature center will also include a nature oriented gift and bookstore, managed by the Friends and Volunteers of Refuges – Florida Keys (FAVOR), the nonprofit Friends group which supports the four Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuges.
Moving forward, funding still needs to be identified for the exhibits inside the building, parking lot, public restroom, nature trail boardwalk, outside exhibits, interpretive panels, and landscaping. Estimated cost for all components may approach $2 million dollars.
“We plan to have various activities throughout this year where the community can get involved,” said park ranger Kristie Killam. “One easy way folks can start getting engaged is with exhibits. We want our exhibits to be interactive, fun, and focused on what makes our natural areas so unique. People can share what they would like to see and do or what they have seen at other nature centers that they liked,” said Killam. Ideas can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or suggestions dropped off at the visitor center located at 179 Key Deer Blvd.
The refuge will also host volunteer work days for the new nature center. Interested volunteers can contact Kristie Killam at email@example.com. Updates on the new nature center can also be found on the refuge’s website (www.fws.gov/refuge/National_Key_Deer_Refuge/) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/floridakeysrefuges).