MCALLEN, RGV – Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez says local residents are going to amazed by a new ecotourism project being developed by Quinta Mazatlán.

The City of McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlán is an historic home and part of a series of World Birding Centers in the Rio Grande Valley. Its mission is to preserve the 1930s adobe estate and the native plants and animals of the Valley, by providing a sanctuary for environmental education, eco-tourism and inspiration to people of all ages.

Hidalgo County Judge Richard Cortez

Cortez spoke about the plans he has seen being developed at Quinta Mazatlán while giving a presentation to the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s governmental affairs committee last Wednesday. Cortez bracketed eco-tourism as economic development.

“On economic development, I could spend a lot of time talking about this here but I won’t. One of the things that I would like to see is for us to develop a real nature tourism industry down here,” Cortez said.

“We have over 500 species of birds, we are supposed to be the best place in the world for butterflies. We are very fragmented. We have the butterfly park, we have Bentsen Park, we have Quinta Mazatlán, we have Santa Ana National Refuge. But we have to tie all those things together.”

Cortez said he was privileged to see what is being developed by Quinta Mazatlán.

“Quinta Mazatlán is developing some very, very beautiful and interesting plans on how to develop itself. When you see those plans, you are going to go ‘wow’,” Cortez said.

“It is interesting, when you think of Paris, France, you think about the Eiffel Tower, when you think of Washington D.C., San Antonio, all these great cities, there are always great landmarks. When you think of McAllen, what landmark do you think about? Well, I can guarantee you, if the Quinta Mazatlán people are successful with what they want to do they are going to have a landmark that will define that.”

Interviewed by the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM after his presentation to the McAllen Chamber governmental affairs committee, Cortez said:

“I saw the plans Quinta Mazatlán is developing last Monday night. It is absolutely a ‘wow.’ Absolutely a beautiful thing. If Quinta Mazatlán could be the beginning point and we could send people to the butterfly park, Bentsen Park, Santa Ana, for nature tourism, nature tourism could be a major tourist attraction for the Rio Grande Valley,” Cortez said.

Quinta Mazatlán

Asked if the Valley can attract more tourists from across the world to see the rare birds and butterflies that fly through the region, Cortez said:

“Absolutely. We had one humming bird that was very, very, rare and we made millions of dollars from people coming to see it. That shows how much enthusiasm we have. But people need to find out about us. We need to have that draw, that special thing that says, wow, I want to go there. And I believe they (Quinta Mazatlán) have it now.”

Immediately the McAllen Chamber event was over, the Rio Grande Guardian and RGV Public Radio 88 FM sent a reporter to Quinta Mazatlán to see if the plans Cortez referenced were available for viewing. Kassandra Rodriguez, recreation and marketing supervisor for the center, said no. “The plans will not be made public until later this year,” she said. 

Rodriguez did say Quinta Mazatlán would be hosting the 3rd Annual Monarch Fest later this month. A flyer for the event is posted at the end of this story.

During the last legislative session, Cortez, while still a McAllen city commissioner, helped the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation secure $5 million for Quinta Mazatlán. Cortez said at the time that some of the funds would be used to allow UT-Rio Grande Valley to conduct research at an Urban Ecology Center, as well as provide courses for students interested in nature. 

“The funding is to create an urban sanctuary at Quinta Mazatlán. It is to teach students about preservation and ecology. A master plan has been developed for the center and we prepared a lot of information for the Legislature. It was a big effort because of the budgetary issues that Austin had,” Cortez told the Rio Grande Guardian at the time.

Asked about the $5 million project, Veronica Gonzales, vice president for UTRGV, said: “The funding will help enhance the parks they (Quinta Mazatlán) have, to conduct research at the park and also provide some programs that will benefit students. We are looking forward to working with Quinta Mazatlán on that.”

In the June, 2017 interview, Cortez said providing more facilities at Quinta Mazatlán will help bring more ecotourists to the Valley.

“Tourism comes in different ways. You have a tendency to think a tourist is going to walk in with their shorts, binoculars and a hat. A tourist can be a professor from Germany, or Spain or China, who wants to come to the Rio Grande Valley to learn how we do things here, about ecology, about preservation. It can also be a student. We could have 30 students come in here from another country, who want to learn from us. That is the plan,” Cortez said.

“We have 500 species of birds, we have butterflies year-round; that is why they have made their national center here. We have got a lot of good things going for us here. It takes leadership, it takes investment, and a lot of cooperation. We have Texas A&M coming in, we have UTRGV. I like our chances of being successful and really turning this nature industry into a good thing.”

Asked how the idea for an Urban Ecology Center came about, Cortez said:

“I start everything from the idea of money because you cannot solve budgetary problems by cutting expenses. You solve budgetary problems by growing revenues. When you start asking what is missing when we are trying to bring conventions to the Rio Grande Valley, you have to have a complete menu of items for families. We have an asset (Quinta Mazatlán) that is very good already. You would go there and have, maybe a two-hour experience. It is very difficult to bring someone long distance for a two-hour experience. We want to have enough critical mass to say, ‘hey, you could come here, there is a lot of things for you to do and see.’”

Cortez added: “We need to always start thinking of creating new revenues and of taking advantage of assets that we have. We are very fragmented because we have the butterfly park in Mission, Santa Ana Refuge, the Island, the wetlands, Quinta Mazatlán, we have got little pieces. We are trying to connect them all together so that when somebody comes down here, they do not only come and see us but they see everybody in the area. It is really exciting for us because the plans are very ambitious. I think we will have not only a regional asset but an asset for the whole State of Texas.”