Open Wednesday - Sunday, 9AM–5PM
Located in Fargo, about 18 miles from Stephen C. Foster State Park
Visitors to the Suwannee River Visitor Center learn not only about alligators and cypress trees, but also how buildings can be made from recycled car parts and plastics. Located in Fargo, just west of the famed Okefenokee Swamp, the center mixes environmental education with engineering showmanship. It is one of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources examples of embracing energy efficiency.
Adjacent to the Highway 441 bridge and backed by Spanish-moss draped trees, the visitor center overlooks a bend in the black water river where people can fish and launch boats. Inside, visitors learn that tannic acid produced by decaying vegetation is what gives the river its tea color, and that unlike other reptiles, mother alligators actively care for their babies. Animal displays include a black bear, bobcat, fox squirrel, otter, snakes, fish and numerous birds, including an endangered wood stork. A short film takes visitors on a leisurely trip through the river and swamp, highlighting flowers, insects, misty morning fog and the many creatures that call the waters home. The center also includes exhibits on the timber industry and local history.
The DNR worked with the architectural firm Culpepper, McAuliffe and Meaders Inc. (CMMI) of Atlanta and Cauthan Construction of Valdosta to build the 7,000-square-foot environmentally friendly center. A third of the building materials was made from recycled content, including decking made from plastics, insulation made from newspaper, and a retaining wall made from old dashboards and electrical cables. Water use is significantly reduced by using the latest composting toilets and a rainwater collection system. Even the parking lot is made from porous concrete, significantly reducing storm water runoff that enters the river. Georgia Power Company donated an electrical vehicle for the staff to drive, lighting comes from the numerous windows, and a high-efficiency heating and air conditioning unit improves indoor air quality.
Land for the new attraction was donated by Superior Pine Products Company under the leadership of President and CEO Bill Oettmeier. The adjacent administrative building was acquired from the Captain Planet Foundation and is a state-of-the-art low energy facility. Future plans for the site include an eco-lodge expected to further boost nature-based tourism in southeast Georgia.
“This new visitor center, which is located in a part of Georgia renowned for its natural, cultural and environmental significance, is economic development and tourism promotion at their best,” said DNR Commissioner Lonice Barrett. “It is a successful partnership between the city of Fargo under leadership from Mayor Patricia Oettmeier, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources.”
The Suwannee River Visitor Center is administratively linked to Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo, the western gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp. The center will be open Wednesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Camping, cottages and picnic sites are located 18 miles away at the state park. For more information, call 912-637-5274 or visit www.gastateparks.org.
FACTS ABOUT THE CENTER:
· 10-minute, high definition, surround sound film
· Mounted animals (black bear, bobcat, fox squirrel, otter, snakes, fish and birds, including an endangered wood stork)
· Live exhibits (coming summer 2004, snake, tree frogs and carnivorous plants)
· Swamp and river history
· Timber industry
· Local history
· Energy-efficient construction
· Interactive exhibits
· Composting toilets use no water and solar fans for ventilation
· Insulation made from recycled newsprint treated to be fire retardant
· Parking lot made from porous concrete to reduce storm water runoff
· Decking made from recycled plastic
· Retaining wall made from recycled electrical cable and automobile dashboards
· Carpet and ceiling tiles made from recycled materials
· Natural lighting
· High-efficiency heating and air conditioning unit
· Electrical vehicle
· 70% of all building materials from local sources
· 30% of all materials have recycled content
· 47% more energy-efficient than regular buildings of its size
· 77% construction waste was recycled
Ribbon-cutting ceremony: June 15, 2004
Architect: Culpepper, McAuliffe and Meaders Inc. (CMMI) of Atlanta
Contractor: Cauthan Construction of Valdosta
Exhibit designer: Deem Loureiro of Atlanta
Exhibit fabricator: Southern Custom Exhibits of Anniston, Alabama
Size: 7,000 square feet (includes porch)
Cost: $2 million
Operated by: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Accommodations: Camping and cottages at S.C. Foster State Park near Fargo
Mailing address: 125 Suwannee River Drive, Fargo, GA 31631
Location: Hwy. 441 bridge over the Suwannee River in southeast Georgia