Conservancy of Southwest Florida opens newly renovated 21-acre Nature Center

May 02, 2013, 18:41 ET from Conservancy of Southwest Florida

NAPLES, Fla., May 2, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Conservancy of Southwest Florida officially reopened the new 21-acre Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center during a two-day Grand Reopening Weekend Festival held April 20-21. The newly renovated Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center, located off of Goodlette-Frank Road just south of the Naples Zoo, is designed to raise awareness of the importance of protecting the water, land, and wildlife in the region. Over 2,200 visitors came to enjoy the festivities and learn more about the Conservancy mission.  The Festival was sponsored by Wells Fargo, with supporting sponsors Bank of America, Florida Weekly, Clear Channel and D'Latinos/Azteca America.


The festival included special exhibits, live entertainment, educational programs and speakers, including renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle from National Geographic who served as keynote speaker. Named as Time Magazine's first Hero for the Planet and a Living Legend by the Library of Congress, Earle shared the depths of her experiences an oceanographer and explorer to attendees inside the new Eaton Conservation Hall and the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater.

The $20 million in sustainable renovations at Conservancy of Southwest Florida included a new entrance, four additional acres of nature preserves, new filter marshes, three new buildings and three renovated buildings. Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center offers a variety of new programs and experiences for the public and members to enjoy.

Funding was provided through the "Saving Southwest Florida" Campaign which raised over $38.8 million. In addition to the Conservancy Nature Center renovations, the balance of funds is being used for policy initiatives, environmental education programs, environmental science research and native wildlife rehabilitation. The Campaign also provided increased endowment funding, including an environmental education partnership with Florida Gulf Coast University.

"The original Naples Nature Center was built in 1981 and the old style, energy "inefficient" labs, classrooms, auditorium and wildlife clinic were in dire need of an extreme makeover," said Conservancy of Southwest Florida President and CEO Andrew McElwaine. "The new Conservancy Nature Center was designed to teach people about the natural treasures of the region, the work the Conservancy conducts to protect our water, land and wildlife, and to inspire people to take action to preserve our quality of life."

Visitors enter the Conservancy Nature Center from Smith Preserve Way, just south of Naples Zoo on Goodlette-Frank Road. Spectacular native species, including endangered gopher tortoises, are seen meandering through the Christopher B. Smith upland preserve.

The Dalton Discovery Center is the focal point for the guest experience with several "natural" southwest Florida ecosystems featuring interactive exhibits, a touch tank exploration and a live loggerhead sea turtle in a 5,000 gallon patch reef tank. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital treats more than 2,200 injured, sick and orphaned native animals each year. Guests can observe baby animals in a nursery viewing area and learn about animal care, as well as observe wading birds in their last stages of recovery in the Windfeldt Shorebird Pool. Eaton Conservation Hall and the Jeannie Meg Smith Theater offer a state-of-the-art multi-media experience with presentations, daily programs, speakers and more. A new Conservancy film produced by Elam Stoltzfus is currently featured in the Theater.  Ferguson Learning Lab is will be home to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida STEM Institute, where hands-on environmental studies incorporate the latest in science, technology, engineering and math.

At the Allyn Family Lagoon and Dock, guests search for wildlife and manatee on a leisurely electric boat cruise, or rent a kayak for a closer look at nature in a mangrove-lined lagoon up to the Gordon River. Guests can explore the secrets of how the Shotwell Wavering Family Filter Marsh cleans and purifies water, and view wading birds and wildlife from the gazebo. In addition, the Bradley Nature Store showcases nature-inspired gifts, books, toys, games and more. The Nature Center also offers short walking trails and is designated as Site #69 on the Great Florida Birding Trail. The Eva Sugden Gomez Environmental Planning Center and Sustainability Plaza are on track to open in late 2014. 

"We are proud of our extreme nature center makeover, as every corner of the 21-acre Nature Center was part of a sustainable effort, from land and water conservation, to green buildings and energy sources, including utilizing geothermal energy for cooling," said McElwaine. "Each building was designed with the goal to meet the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards. Our new Nature Center truly reflects the mission of the Conservancy, and we are grateful to our donors, the construction teams, staff, volunteers, local and state officials, and the community for supporting us throughout the Campaign and renovation."

The public can help protect the region's water, land and wildlife by volunteering, becoming a Conservancy member, making a donation, or making a purchase or donating furniture at the Conservancy Upscale Resale Furniture and More store in Naples.

To plan your visit to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Nature Center, visit or call 239-262-0304.

SOURCE Conservancy of Southwest Florida