Monday, January 12, 2009

Recovery in Ocean Springs

Ocean Springs' popular nature and recreation site marked a milestone in its rebound from Hurricane Katrina with the official opening of the William Colmer Visitor Center.
The William M. Colmer Visitor Center, named for a veteran Mississippi congressman, is located at the end of Park Road.

Presentations covering all aspects of the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Mississippi are available. An exhibit area that incorporates the art of local artist Walter Anderson explains the different ecosystems and features local plants and wildlife. An exhibition of work by other local artists changes on a quarterly basis. The twelve minute film " Tides, Winds, and Waves" is shown daily in the auditorium. Administrative Offices, restrooms, water fountains, and the Eastern National Bookstore are housed in the building. Park Rangers are available at the information desk to answer questions.

Inside the center, an open house Saturday gave visitors a chance to test out models of future educational displays on local plants and wildlife.

Amaze Design Inc., who designed the interior of the center, brought in another company to evaluate how people responded to the models, looking for ways to make the displays accessible and easy to use.

At a display about aquatic bottom-feeders, guests were asked whether it was easier to slide a handle or turn a knob to reveal a pic ture of a clam. Opinions were also gathered about the height of the displays, particularly for people who use wheelchairs.

The park used about $1 million to restore the building and decking, said Gail Bishop, chief of interpretation at Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Park officials were not able to make drastic changes, because the federal money was designed to pay for restoring what existed before Katrina, Bishop said. Park rangers had been working out of a trailer since Katrina.

Gulf Islands National Seashore offers recreation opportunities and preserves natural resources along barrier islands in Mississippi and Florida. The Davis Bayou area in Ocean Springs consists of more than 400 acres, according to the National Park Service.

The visitor center is open 8:30 to 4:30 daily.

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