Through butterflies, lizards and plants, River Bend Nature Center wants to connect people to the natural environment surrounding them.
Jennica Lambert, exhibits curator, said, “River Bend Nature Center is private nonprofit and the reason we exist is to connect people to the natural environment of Texas. That’s our mission. Everything here is centered around that, as in environmental education and conservation.”
Lambert said what they do is important to everyone, not just students.
“They’ll come out here and we’ll teach them all about why the environment around them is important and why they should conserve it,” Lambert said. “That includes talking about the different animal species here, the different plant species that live here, the different ecoregions that surround us and what each of those things do.”
Lambert said they would also talk about how they contribute, how they work together, how everything is essentially connected, and why water conservation is important.
“General admission, like if you were to come in as a student, you would be exposed to all of that,” Lambert said. “You’ll get the chance to see a Barred tiger salamander up close and personal, or learn why rat snakes are important and what they eat. There’s a plethora of things here to see and do.”
Ericka Mitchell, docent and graduate student of the biology department, said, “We order [butterflies] from a company in Florida, and they get shipped here in their chrysalis. They usually take about six days to emerge and then we release them.
Mitchell said they have tried to breed the butterflies before, but they are unsure as to why the butterflies won’t mate or lay eggs.
Lambert said the exhibit hall contains more than 150 live exhibits, and everything they have is rescued and non-releasable, giving lots of opportunities for the students to interact with local wildlife.
“As far as opportunities unique to MSU students, there are internship opportunities that we offer here so you can experience on your resume by helping out a local nonprofit,” said Lambert. “We’ll teach you a variety of different skills depending on what your major is. We have several MSU graduate students out here that work for us.”
Lambert said the Nature Center does educational programing for children including pioneer programs and water conservation programs.
“We also do special events throughout the year, and we’ll do lecture series with professors and specialists in the area,” Lambert said. “We usually start those in the fall, and they are actually put on by MSU students.”
Lambert said the Nature Center is funded by grants, individual donations and foundations in the community.
Liz Martin, executive director, said, “Truly to get a job in today’s world, you have to go and build up your resume. If you are truly interested in the sciences, like biology, then this is the perfect place because that is our whole focus. ”
“There are many ways to work here,” Martin said. “We have internships and typically for environmental science it’s 140 hours that they have to do. Typically when that person has done their internship, we hire them and then bring them on as a docent.”
Martin said the Nature Center has around 35,000 visitors a year and 45 percent of them come from outside of Wichita Falls.