The Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre’s doors opened to the public for the first time at 1 pm on Saturday, April 21st, and will be open regularly Saturday and Sunday afternoons from now on, expanding hours as volunteers are available.
The sun was shining on Saturday as about 250 people came to look around
and enjoy some music provided by Jane’s Way, Monica Whitney Brown and Rosalee Tremblay Johnston and the Cowichan Naturalists’ own Muddy Buddies. Locally sourced goodies were provided by the Cowichan Bay Dragon Divas.
Visitors had an opportunity to climb the viewing platform and check out the view with the Centre’s telescope, explore the shore and enjoy the natural wonders of the estuary. The opening ceremony began with a welcome offered by Mike Olebar from Cowichan Tribes and three dance offerings from the world renowned Tzinquaw Dancers. Even Grandfather Heron made an appearance.
Speeches and thank-yous were short, heart -felt and interspersed with musical offerings.
The Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre will provide interactive opportunities for children and adults to learn about the estuary, its watershed, marine life, and natural and cultural history.
Indoors there is an aquarium and touch tank where visitors can see intertidal life up close and personal, as well as a computer touch screen that offers an interactive tour of the watershed, a video corner with two minutes interviews with Cowichan elders, biologists, historians and fisherfolk offering rich and diverse perspectives on the estuary, and an array of estuary art including a mural and mutimedia eelgrass meadow. The Centre, which opened for regular hours on Sunday afternoon, is also expected to drawing a significant number of new tourists to our region.
The Nature Centre plans to offer special programs for school classes, summer science camps, and tour groups, and be open regular hours for tourists and local people to drop by.
There will also be numerous volunteer opportunities. More than 20 people have already signed up to help. The current group of volunteers hopes that the centre will also be a nucleus for monitoring and restoration of the waters and conservation lands of the Cowichan Estuary.
Ever since the Marine Ecology Station moved from Cowichan Bay to Sidney in 2001, community members and naturalists have seen the need for a place to inform and inspire the public about the importance of the estuary’s bird and marine life, and the rich wildlife habitat provided by its salt marshes, mud flats and eelgrass meadows. In 2009 the community was surprised by the appearance of part of the Hood Canal Bridge in Cowichan Bay. The need for a watchful presence in the estuary was further encouraged by the Cowichan Tribes Estuary Management Workshop in April, 2011.
The Cowichan Land Trust was a natural sponsor for this project. As the successor to the Cowichan Estuary Preservation Society, the Land Trust has been co-sponsoring Low Tide Day in Cowichan Bay since 1999 and transplanting eelgrass and supporting youth streamkeepers in Cowichan Bay since 2003. The Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre has the support of the Area D Community Park Commission, the Cowichan Valley Regional District, the Duncan Rotary Club, the Cowichan Valley Naturalists’ Society, more than 33 other local organizations and businesses and many community members.
Major funding for the project was provided by Western Diversification Canada’s West Coast Community Adjustment Program and the Island Coastal Economic Trust, as well as by the Rotary Club of Duncan.
For more information about the Cowichan Estuary Nature Centre, visit the new website at www.cowichanestuary.caor call 250-597-2288. The Cowichan Land Trust continues to seek donations and volunteers to assist with the first year of operation of the Nature Centre.