MCALLEN, RGV – McAllen City Commissioner Richard Cortez has praised the Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation for helping secure $5 million for an Urban Ecology Center at Quinta Mazatlan.
McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlan is an historic home and is part of a series of World Birding Centers in the Valley.
Cortez, who helped develop the project, said UT-Rio Grande Valley will conduct research at the Urban Ecology Center and provide courses for students interested in nature. The project was one of McAllen’s top legislative agenda items for the 85th Legislative Session.
“The funding is to create an urban sanctuary at Quinta Mazatlan. 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. I want to thank our Valley delegation, Senator Lucio, Senator Hinojosa and our Valley Representatives. I also want to thank Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick for their support,” Cortez said.
State Sen. Juan Hinojosa wrote about the $5 million funding for Quinta Mazatlan in a guest column published in the Rio Grande Guardian on Tuesday, June 13. Click here to read the column.
Asked about the $5 million project, Veronica Gonzales, vice president for UTRGV, said: “The funding will help enhance the parks they have, to conduct research at the park and also provide some programs that will benefit students. We are looking forward to working with Quinta Mazatlan on that.”
Nancy Millar, vice president of McAllen Convention & Visitors Bureau, discussed the importance of nature tourism to the Valley in a recent livestream conversation on Facebook with Rio Grande Guardian publisher Mark Hanna.
“People come from all over the world to see the birds we have in McAllen and the McAllen area. Four hundred and sixty-three million dollars are spent by wildlife watchers and the vast majority of them are birders, every year in the Rio Grande Valley. It is responsible for well over a thousand jobs in the Valley,” Millar told Hanna.
Hanna pointed out that while Valley residents might see parrots all the time, to visitors from overseas or other parts of the United States or Canada, it could be a rare sight. “People come from all over the world to see the birds. Just because we see the parrots every day does not mean they are not special to somebody else,” Millar responded.
In fact, because the region is a funnel for two major migratory pathways, the Valley has 39 species of birds that are not seen in any other part of the United States or Canada, Millar said.
“There are 42 million birders in the United States and 14 million of them travel, they have got the money to travel. They are very passionate,” Millar said, noting also that international birders visit the Valley from, Britain, Scandinavia, Germany, Japan and other countries.
“They come and they are amazed. That is the thing. If they come, we have got them. They are blown away by the sheer number of species we have here,” Millar said.
Commissioner Cortez, a former mayor of McAllen, said providing more facilities at Quinta Mazatlan 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 Mazatlan) 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.’”
“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 Mazatlan, 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.”
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above story shows Quinta Mazatlan. The photo was taken by John Faulk and first appeared in a feature in Texas Co-Op Power Magazine.
Visit McAllen focuses on marketing the city of McAllen and the RGV as a whole. Have some tips or want to learn more? Tune in to our LIVE chat with Vice President Nancy Millar.
Posted by Rio Grande Guardian on Tuesday, June 6, 2017