Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Green' Visitor Center Opens; Gateway to Okefenokee Swamp, Suwannee River Takes Its Place in State Eco-Building History

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Green' Visitor Center Opens; Gateway to Okefenokee Swamp, Suwannee River Takes Its Place in State Eco-Building History

Article excerpt

Byline: Gordon Jackson, The Times-Union

FARGO -- The state's first "green" building isn't actually green -- it's off-white, with a tin roof.

The Suwannee River Visitor Center has the distinction, however, as the first building constructed by the state using many of the most environmentally friendly construction processes known.

Nearly 30 percent of the building materials contain recycled content and 77 percent of the construction waste was recycled. The new 7,000-square-foot visitor center is 47 percent more energy efficient than comparable buildings and will use about 90 percent less water by using composting toilets.

State officials attending the dedication ceremony for the first green facility Tuesday said many more environmentally friendly buildings are being built or planned for construction in the near future.

Despite its place in state history, the center's function is still the same as originally intended -- to promote the Okefenokee swamp and Suwannee River.

Gov. Sonny Perdue, the key speaker at the dedication, described the Okefenokee as "one of the treasures of the United States that's uniquely Georgia."

"It's like a window in the past," Perdue said. "It's here where visitors can come and learn about the gateway to the Okefenokee."

Perdue predicted the visitor center and an "eco-lodge" planned for construction in the fall will boost the local economy in Fargo and the west side of the 400,000-acre swamp.

"It makes sense to have a smart environmental example like you have here," Perdue said. "We're the first today of many visitors to walk through this center."

Exhibits in the center include mounted animals from the region such as black bear, bobcat, otter, snakes, fish and birds. Other displays explain swamp and river history, the timber industry and, later this summer, will also include live exhibits featuring live animals and carnivorous plants.

Computers help tell the story of activities, wildlife and paddling in the area, while traditional glass displays hold old hunting rifles, fishing gear and photographs.

Once the "eco-lodge" is completed, the Suwannee River Visitor Center will play an important role in the region's economy as a destination and site for conventions and group activities, said Becky Kelley, director of the State Parks & Historic Sites Division for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. …

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