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Columbus Audubon Center/Scioto Metro Park Opening Soon

The new Grange Insurance Audubon Nature Center will open next month on the banks of the Scioto River near downtown Columbus. The center is one of the first that Audubon has built in an urban setting. It's the centerpiece of the newest Metro Park in Central Ohio - and an important area for migrating and nesting birds.

Audubon Society member Heather Raymond arrives to greet me early on a summer morning near the boat ramp on the Whittier Peninsula. Raymond, with binoculars in hand, has been coming here for the past five years, documenting, she says, the hundred species of birds that visit the area.

"Oh! You just about had a Cedar Waxwing almost land on your head so that was a pretty nice first encounter here at the Whittier," says Raymond.

This Metro Park has been a work-in-progress for several years. Part of the property adjoins an abandoned industrial area and the police department's impound lot. But closer to the river - except for the noise of traffic - you would not know you're just a mile from downtown. A heavy line of trees covers both sides of the Scioto

"Out on the water we're looking at a Great Blue Heron a very common bird seen here at the Whittier but a really fun one to watch; about four feet tall, six-foot wingspan, and they just slowly prowl the peninsula looking for their fish food," Raymond says.

The Audubon Society has designated this location as an Important Bird Area. It's especially valuable to migrating birds because of its dense strip of forest. That's one reason that the Audubon Society chose to build a nature center here. Heather Starck is director of the center which celebrates its grand opening August 28th.

"Audubon could have chosen to have put this nature center many other places. But the reason we picked downtown Columbus is that as a conservation organization we can really inspire people in their everyday life to be good stewards of the environment," Starck says.

To do that the center has several classrooms that will teach urban dwellers about birds and other animals, about riparian areas and about the river. Building the new nature center cost about 5 and a half million dollars. One side offers a dramatic view of downtown Columbus. On the other side, the dense woodland of the Scioto Audubon Metro Park.

"Oh! That's a catbird," Raymond says. "They're a mimic and they're kind of fun to listen to. You'll hear a variety of sounds and they're kind of all strung together." Construction work at the Audubon Center is still underway. On the north side of the center bulldozers are building a wetlands area that when completed will have a board walk and bird blind. The adjoining auto impound lot will be moved to a new site when the city's budget permits. The 18,000 square-foot center has geothermal heating and cooling and an abundance of glass to allow for maximum natural lighting. The glass was manufactured with an inlaid design that helps deter bird strikes. Audubon Center director Heather Starck:

"One of the things that you want to do is use the maximum amount of day lighting as you can so lots of green buildings have lots of windows in them. But we're also a bird conservation organization and birds and windows don't always go together well. So what you're seeing here is something called fritted glass. So that pattern is actually made into the glass when the glass is being made so it's just enough to distract them so that they know that there is an object there that is not a natural object," Starck says.

Back on the Scioto River, Heather Raymond has found two bird species that are good signs for the new partnership between the city, the Audubon Society and the Metro Park system.

"Out there is a Great Egret and actually I think that's the symbol for National Audubon so it's kind of nice to see out here," Raymond says. "Also perched up on the fence row over here is a Song Sparrow which is actually the symbol for Columbus Audubon, so it's kind of nice to see both the symbol for the local Audubon chapter right next to the national Audubon symbol and kind of shows that both of our symbols are out here and representing this beautiful area."