July 27, 2012

The Bosque in the 'Burbs

What draws so many people to the Rio Grande Nature Center (RGNC)? To find out, I spoke with Karen Herzenberg, RGNC's Instructional co-ordinator and Interpretive Naturalist. In this excerpt she describes two unintentional interpretive features at RGNC. Sorry about the poor audio quality.

Albuquerque's RGNC  attracts an impressive number of visitors; 130,000 per year. A team of 170 volunteers commit to at least 24 hours of training before running a stack of activities, walks and talks. Every year 12,000 children attend a class at the center. It's not just locals taking advantage of a natural area so close to the city. Herzenberg tells me that visitors from “all over” come to see the waterbirds, “We're know internationally as a destination for birdwatchers... [who come for] specific birds you might only see in this area.”

 In spite of it's high public value, I'm surprised that the cottonwood forest, or bosque, at RGNC still exists. Levees and irrigation ditches have dramatically reduced flow throughout the Rio Grande. The last flood was in 1941. Without floods, cottonwoods can't germinate and grow. Today, the aging stands of trees are slowly dying off. Reforestation is hampered by low water levels. Consequently, the bosque and wetland areas at RGNC contain some of the few remnants of the endemic ecosystems.

The future might be grim but RGNC doesn't bludgeon visitors with gloom. Herzenberg says “our goal is for people to learn about the ecosystem of this area, to provide opportunities for that.” Learning opportunities are everywhere- not just on information panels. Often these questions lead to bigger conversations about the bosque and the Rio Grande. Herzenberg says, “...and that's sort of the idea of being interpretive. Rather than lecturing people, going blah blah blah, that you provide opportunities for them to discover things themselves or to ask the right questions.”

Maybe these opportunities are the key to RGNC's draw.  As the 'burbs continue to creep, places to experience local ecosystems and waterways can be difficult to find. In some ways, RGNC is a refuge for local humans as well as waterbirds!

~Kat Taylor. 
Visitors often ask the function of the odd X's:  jetty jacks

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