Mother Nature’s hidden treasure

The South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is getting ready to see business bloom. 

The center is planning several fun activities, said Marketing Director MaryJane Crull, including kids summer camps, the upcoming bird migration and more. 

The gardens have several kids camps planned this summer for children age 5-16. Thanks to the Coastal Bend Community Foundation children can now attend camps through a scholarship. Children can qualify for the scholarship based on family income. 

All camps are from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. Four themes will be available starting from June 17 to July 26. Members of the garden will get a discounted rate of $85 per child, while nonmembers pay $100 for each camp excluding Nature Shutterbugs.

Feathers & Scales will be the first camp, on June 17-28, and is instructed by youth education coordinator Brenda Ermis and three animal care specialist/trainers. 

“Feathers & Scales involves our huge collections of tropical parrots and reptiles,” Crull said. “This camp teaches kids how to correctly handle and feed the animals. They always do projects related to the rest of the garden as well.”

Nature’s Tiny Creatures will be held July 8-12.  This camp involves ladybugs, insects and other invertebrates you don’t normally see unless you look closely. Campers will explore their natural habitats and their importance within our ecosystem. 

Intro to Junior Volunteers will be July 15-19. This camp involves older kids and goes through a series of Saturday classes. They will work with the animal care team and go in depth on caring for certain animals. This gives kids the opportunity to see if they are interested in that field of study. The camp also offers volunteer hours for 4-H and National Honors Society. 

The last camp, Nature Shutterbugs will be July 22-26. Fees are $125 for members and $135 for nonmembers. 

This camp is all about nature photography and is taught by the Wildlife in Focus executive director, Susan Chilcoat. Campers will learn how to photograph plants, animals and animal homes and create photo opportunities that could be printed for framed pictures or journals.  

“I think getting kids started early in exploring nature is really important. It gets them involved in biology and ecology,” said Michael Womack, executive director of the Botanical Gardens. “They will be our future leaders so the more we can get them involved, engaged and protecting the environment the better.”

The gardens offer general admission as well as membership subscription. General admission for children ages 3-12 is $5 and adult admission for ages 13-59 years old is $9. Discounted admission is available for seniors, active military and college students at $7. 

Memberships are a one-time cost for a year of unlimited visits to all types of gardens across the nation. An individual membership costs $35, a couple membership costs $50 and the family or grandparent membership costs $75. The family or grandparent membership allows grandchildren 18 or younger to come into the gardens for free.

“Summer is always a great tourist season so we get a lot of people from out of town in. The plumeria are in bloom, which are gorgeous. We get lost of butterflies out here, and every time you come to the gardens different season have different plants in bloom,” Womack said. “You get lots of tropical plants in bloom in the summertime and I think that’s a wonderful time to join the garden.” 

The South Texas Botanical Gardens & Nature Center is unique when compared with other gardens around the country.

“When I first came all we had was the visitors center and the original orchid house, not the conservatory we have today. It’s grown to everything we have today up to 182 acres,” Crull said. “That is huge but a lot of it is nature trails and natural habitat which is important and why we are the botanical gardens and nature center. It’s very unusual for botanical gardens to have the nature trials and animal exhibits.” 

Living in South Texas and having the King Ranch only four miles away makes a perfect spot for snakes to live. While on the nature trail, visitors will see plenty of “Beware of Snake” signs and may even see them swimming down the channel. Crull said to not worry too much while on the trail and if you come across a snake to slowly walk away and enjoy the rest of the gardens. Occasionally visitors will also see bobcats, but again there shouldn’t be any worry as long as they are unprovoked. 

Volunteer opportunities are also available at the gardens. 

Anyone who wants to work in the garden, help with animals, or even help out the administration by typing data entry and data processing is encouraged to apply. The gardens use the work-study program at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for the front desk visitor center. Most animal volunteers are A&M-CC students, but the gardens are open to use Del Mar College students as well. Crull said students interested in biology or animal husbandry would enjoy volunteering. There are all kinds of volunteer opportunities and the gardens gets request for honor society volunteer work all the time. 

“We are definitely a grass-roots organization, and unlike other botanical gardens we rely heavily on volunteers and other groups to help us maintain our plant collection and continue to provide quality education,” Womack said. “People who want to explore shouldn’t let the heat of summer scare them away. They are ways to work around the heat of summer.”  

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