Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve
The Reserve's Education & Research Center was constructed to minimize it ecological impact and features exhibits, displays and classrooms as well as broad research facilities.
The Reserve's Education & Research Center was constructed to minimize its ecological impact and features exhibits, displays and classrooms as well as broad research facilities.

The Reserve Education & Research Center

Public is welcome to visit Tuesday through Saturday from 9 am until 4:00 pm.

The Reserve's home is located at 108 Island Drive (State Road 300) at Cat Point in Eastpoint, Florida. As our guests park their vehicles and walk up to the Nature Center, they are taken along a winding path where they can read about the pine flat woods, oak hammocks, and freshwater marshes they are encountering. The crushed gravel pathway not only has signs that educate, but also helps with lessening our disturbance to this site by providing a firm, permeable, handicapped accessible surface.

The Education Center features live exhibits of estuarine life.
The Education Center features live exhibits of estuarine life.

Visitors can enjoy a wall-length mural depicting river and coastal habitats.
Visitors can enjoy a wall-length mural depicting river and
coastal habitats.

An oyster boat exhibit greets visitors before entering the Educaton center.
An oyster boat exhibit greets visitors before entering the Educaton center.

A retrospective exhibit of oyster boats over time.
A retrospective exhibit of oyster boats over time.

The Reserve's live exhibits require facilities to pump and filter salt, brackish, and freashwater.
The Reserve's live exhibits require facilities to pump and filter salt, brackish, and freshwater.

At one time, before settlement and fire suppression regimes, the location probably would have burned by natural fire every two to three years. The site would have been more open, herbaceous and grassy, with sparse trees. At present day, however, the site consists of pine flat woods down to the shoreline, interspersed with oak hammocks. To the southwest and west of the building are mixed hardwoods in a wet hammock area, including magnolia and cedar trees. There is also a freshwater depression marsh to the northwest corner of the site, filled with cattails and sawgrass. Before it was bisected by Island Drive, this freshwater area was connected to the brackish marshes filled with black needlerush (Juncus roemerianus) and smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora) to the west of the road. To the south of the building by the shoreline there is a healthy stand of Spartina, one of the most important and dominant lower saltmarsh plants. To the east of the building visitors can take lunches to Millender Park, where they can enjoy views of the water and the breakwater area that has been established through volunteer and staff plantings over the last several years. The Coastal Training Program's coordinator, Rosalyn Kilcollins, is already planning how this summer's Master Naturalist class will be able to study these habitats on-site.

Once inside the Nature Center, visitors can enjoy a wall-length mural depicting river and coastal habitats, echoing the view out of the ceiling-high picture window on the south side of the center. These tall windows peer through more scrubby pine and palmettos to overlook the Cat Point oyster bar. A coastal walk from the building to the shoreline gives visitors further opportunity to learn about and enjoy the natural setting of the building.

The facility integrates many of the popular elements of the old visitor's center with new exhibits and meeting spaces with improved technologies. These include the Bay Discovery room located inside the Nacture Center, the multipurpose room with seating for about a hundred people and the outside amphitheatre for larger groups. The exhibits are meant to give visitors a sense of place and to orient them as to where they are in Florida and within the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint watershed. Much of the interpretation demonstrates the connectivity among habitats (River, Bay and Gulf), and suggests a continuum of habitat versus discreet, separate systems. One unique attribute of the visitor's center is that it highlights the long local history of the Apalachicola area and the role of Apalachicola and Eastpoint as working waterfronts. There are firsthand accounts of local fishermen describing their profession and how it relies on the health and productivity of Apalachicola Bay to be sustainable.

The new facility is LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified at the silver level, which means that many aspects of the facility are designed to be energy efficient and environmentally sensitive. Compact fluorescent bulbs are used throughout the facility; many of which are on motion sensors, so lights are only on when the rooms are occupied. The design and construction of the facility was completed with much of the property left undisturbed. Only a handful of small trees were removed during the construction of the facility, so there is no aspect from which the entire building can be viewed. The parking areas are constructed from pervious materials, allowing rainwater to permeate the ground without creating excessive runoff. The roof of the facility is designed to capture rainwater and funnel it into cisterns underneath the building. The water from these cisterns is used for flushing toilets and irrigation for landscaping.

Cat Point oyster bar is one of the most productive oyster bars in Apalachicola Bay. At low tide, tidal flats and parts of oyster reefs are exposed. The research section has had a datalogger located on Cat Point since 1992, which continually monitors temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen levels, pH, and other water quality parameters. The education section has started an oyster reef project in conjunction with Heidi Montgomery's Franklin County School Biology classes. Trays of fossilized oyster, regular shell, and rocks were deployed in June 2010. The classes will study differences in oyster spat and growth on the various substrates.

There is wildlife all around the new site. An active bald eagle nest sits very close to the building. The pair that live there are often seen perching in the trees and snags along the shoreline. Besides the bald eagles, there are a variety of winter birds and osprey, herons and shorebirds along the water and marshes, as well as the eastern towhees, pine warblers, and Carolina wrens in the flat woods areas. Yellow-bellied sapsuckers can be seen making holes in the oak trees. Staff has observed red fox, raccoons, possums, a black bear and her two cubs. When we don't see the animals themselves, we see evidence of their presence in the tracks left behind in the sandy area beneath the building. A multitude of bird tracks can be seen along the shoreline.