Ted Simons: The Audubon Society has a new green building. The Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audobon Center will officially open this weekend. The education center and home to Audubon Arizona is located in south Phoenix and was built with many green features. Here's a video tour of the new building.
Sarah Porter: This is the Rio Salado Audubon Center. We are the first Audubon center of the National Audubon Society in the state of Arizona. We are situated in one of the most intensely urban parts of Phoenix. And we are here to connect people with nature. A lot of our green features are things that you can't see. 100% of our wastewater is recycled. During the construction of this building, there was an effort to recycle 90% of construction waste. Over 20% of the materials used in the construction of the center are from sources within 500 miles of the center. So those are features that are hard to see. The arrays are one of our important green features for this green building. They will provide 40 to 50% of our electricity. They were given to us by SRP, a very important gift for us. This area is part of our children's free play area. We call it the Ephemeral streams. It's a manmade stream with a very wide lining and it's a tough stream that children can come and work. A lot of children in Phoenix, and especially in downtown and south Phoenix, you grow up with very limited to no access to the experience of playing in natural water areas, like a stream or a wetland. We thought it was important to give them that experience. And then on this site over here we have another water feature. This is just an old-fashioned pump. A lot of kids never had a reason to ask themselves, where does our water come from? How would I get water to my crops or my garden if I didn't live next to a river?
Sarah Porter: The covers are part of our irrigation system for our landscaping, and they are purple because they indicate that we're using recycled wastewater. We are using cleaned recycled wastewater to irrigate the vegetation in the landscape. This feature is something called a bioswale, a rain caching system comparable to a rain barrel you might see on the side of someone's house. They cache water moving across the ground, especially after a rainstorm. When the water collects, it slowly sinks to the groundwater system, the aquifer. As it goes down, it's cleaned. One of the most important things we can do to keep our water supplies clean is to capture water that falls on the ground and let it run down into the groundwater system.
Ted Simons: Here now to tell us more about the new Audubon facility is Sarah Porter, director of the Rio Salado Audubon Center. Thanks for joining us.
Sarah Porter: Nice to be here.
Ted Simons: The idea for the center, when did it get started? How long was it in development?
Sarah Porter: The idea started not in Arizona, probably about 12 years ago when the National Audubon Society decided to start bringing nature education to people in urban areas. National Audubon recognized that the old model of nature centers out in beautiful areas, that people would drive to on the weekends and vacations, it wasn't going to work as we grow more and more intensely urban. About seven years ago the National Audubon Society, with very strong support from local Arizona chapter members who wanted this to happen, hired my boss to start a state office. And her state board recognized that the city of Phoenix was a prime candidate for an urban nature center of the kind that Audubon is currently working on across the country.
Ted Simons: Why was this particular location considered a good site for the center?
Sarah Porter: It was a perfect site for two main reasons. One is we got a chance to partner with the city of Phoenix and be the Interpretive Gateway for the City of Phoenix's fantastic, fabulous Rio Salado restoration habitat, a 600-acre restoration of Salt River habitat, running along the historic Salt River corridor between 16th Street and about 19th Avenue currently. That's one we know. The other reason it's a perfect site, we are right next to a huge number of Phoenix residents, people in south and downtown Phoenix now have the opportunity to come and do nature education. Those are the people we are really working on reaching. The national Audubon Society recognizes that it's very important for the conservation movement to reach out to more diverse audiences. The conservation movement hasn't done a very good job in the last 20 to 40 years of bringing in people of different colors and different traditions. So here we are in a historically more ethnically diverse part of Phoenix with a beautiful nature center next to a fabulous habitat.
Ted Simons: Talk more about that fabulous habitat. I had a chance to go down when it first opened up, haven’t been back since. I was amazed at all of the things that were going on, in a part of the valley where most people wouldn’t think anything was going on. 9
Sarah Porter: You are absolutely right. I think most people don't realize what a little gem the Rio Salado habitat is. If you haven't been there for a while, you would probably be amazed by the growth over the past few years. The plants planted down there, they are all authentic Sonoran riparian, seed stock carefully selected to be authentic to Salt River habitat at 2,000 feet of elevation. Once you put a little water in and a little native vegetation in, you attract the wildlife. Currently there are some 200 different species of bird that use the habitat over the course of time. The habitat has attracted mammals, including of course coyotes, jackrabbits, of course cottontails, javelinas, even beavers and muskrats have moved in where there's water to support them, and all the other wildlife that comes along with having native habitat.
Ted Simons: What about human life? Are folks discovering this or the word's still got to get out?
Ted Simons: I think the word needs to get out. I think the center is going to be something that helps that effort. We're a really nice amenity. We have bathrooms, we have cold water, vending machines. We also have interpretive exhibits and a program to help people understand how they can use the habitat. One of the activities that people from Audubon traditionally really love doing is bird-watching. I don't think so many people know until they have tried it how wonderful it is to take a walk with a pair of binoculars and a field guide. You can do this with your kids, with your friends, by yourself. You can really get into a habitat in a new way by discovering the wildlife.
Ted Simons: We got a little bit of a tour in terms of the green aspects of it. In terms of transportation, you've got all sorts of things going on there, bus lines, you’ve got showers for cyclists, these sorts of things.
Sarah Porter: We have a shower for the staff members who choose to ride their bikes or jog to work. We actually have members who are starting to get to work that way. We are doing our part.
Ted Simons: Okay. So if people want to check this out, if they want to go and see the restoration habitat as a whole, what's the best way to get there? How do they get more bang for the buck?
Sarah Porter: The best thing to do is come to the center at 3131 South Central Avenue. We have of course parking, a parking area, or they could take the bus. It runs right down along Central. We have a bike rack. They should come through the center, take in our exhibits. We are telling the story of the Salt River, a historically significant river for everyone who lives in Phoenix. We should know this story. We are talking about the story of riparian habitat in Arizona. Then they can connect with the habitat right out our back door.
Ted Simons: Excellent. Thank you very much for joining us, we appreciate it.
Sarah Porter: Thank you very much.