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TUESDAY, JANUARY 2, 2007
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Mobile Bay complex expected to attract tourists

SPANISH FORT (AP) — Construction workers are nearing completion on a multimillion-dollar attraction that could transform the Causeway between Mobile and Baldwin counties into a passageway for discovering the charm of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

The state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources is developing an 83-acre complex called Five Rivers — Alabama’s Delta Resource Center.

The complex, located west
of the Blakeley River bridge, has been delayed by construction costs that more than doubled to $10 million and by storms that pounded the Gulf Coast in 2005.

The conservation department and Rod Cooke Construction hope to have three 4,000-square-foot buildings, called the Nature Center complex, ready this month.

A grand opening for all of Five Rivers — including a 90-seat theater, walking trails, picnic shelters, reception hall, gift shop and canoe and kayak landing — is expected in the spring, said Hank Burch, natural resource planner with the conservation department’s state lands division coastal section.

The complex is named for
the Apalachee, Blakeley, Mo-bile, Spanish and Tensaw rivers that drained unimpeded into Mobile Bay before the eight-mile-long Causeway was built in 1927.

Burch calls the center “a gateway to the Delta.” Its cedar-frame structures blend in with the environment, unlike some of the small businesses and restaurants that dot the Causeway.

When the complex opens, Burch expects lots of schoolchildren on field trips and nature enthusiasts exploring the waterways that surround it.

Studies performed by the Mobile-based Watermark Design Group and Massachusetts-based ConsulEcon Inc. predict that 75,000 to 100,000 people will visit the center annually.

“The catalyst for this thing is the delta,” he told the Mobile Press-Register. “Now is our time to tell people about it. That delta connects us to the entire state. Physically, two-thirds of the state river system drains through our delta.

“They don’t make too many deltas like that, you know. We really feel like it can be a tourist destination and a regional destination.”

The conservation department first expected the project to
cost $4.5 million, but bids came in much higher. Groundbreaking occurred in October 2004, with $8.5 million spent for the construction contract, $400,000 for the design team, and $1 million for infrastructure, Burch said.

George Crozier, director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, calls the new center “a dream come true.”

Mobile and Baldwin counties lack public access to the estuary system, where freshwater rivers flow into Mobile Bay, he said.

“It’s important that people feel some sort of connection to the bay,” he said. “The opportunity to provide a really effective gateway to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a tremendous opportunity for the region as a whole. That facility is going to become an anchor for a variety of eco-tourism activities.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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