Nature was in full celebration Tuesday as area environmentalists and residents gathered at Augusta's treasured nature park.
The Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy honored three accomplishments at Phinizy Swamp Nature Park: the academy's fifth anniversary, Phinizy Swamp being designated a Georgia Audubon Society Important Bird Area and the groundbreaking for an education complex.
"It's really been a terrific five years," said Dr. Gene Eidson, president and founder of the academy.
Dr. Jim Wilson, the Georgia Important Bird Area coordinator, presented Jackie Maryak, the executive director of the academy, with a plaque honoring Phinizy.
The award is difficult to achieve because the area has to be important to nesting birds, said Anne Waters, the field trip coordinator for Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society.
"With all the (housing) development, a good bird habitat is becoming more and more scarce," she said.
The most exciting part of the ceremony was the groundbreaking for the new education center.
"We really wanted to create the mini-Okefenokee (Swamp) outdoor classroom environment," Dr. Eidson said.
The center is meant to help further educate pupils from kindergarten through 12th grade, who for the past five years have been able to go to Phinizy Swamp for outdoor classroom interaction and field trips. Dr. Eidson said the center would offer more storage and keep bad weather from being a factor in canceling trips to the swamp. It's also more hands on.
"We try to expand on what they do in their classrooms," he said. "It has a lot more meaning when kids can actually see it up front and interact with it."
Mrs. Maryak said that the center would cover about 3,000 square feet and that the academy received more than $500,000 in donations and community contributions to pay for it. The academy intends to build another site with an auditorium and gift shop for the public, she said.
Dr. Eidson said he thought the center would be open by the beginning of next year.
Reach Rebecca Whitehead at (706) 823-3340.