Update 2023-01-02: Budget and Bats: Suwannee River Visitor Center.
Somebody asked, what is that big building next to the Suwannee River at Fargo, and why is it closed?
The Suwannee River Visitor Center opened in 2004, before the nearby Eco-Lodge. Both are part of Stephen C. Foster State Park.
It was a showcase for the wildlife, composition, and history of the Suwannee River, as well as an example green building. But it has been closed since at February 2015 or earlier. Here is what I could find about it.
Ashley Harper, WALB TV, June 15, 2004, Tourist attraction brings life to Fargo,
Fargo—A new tourist attraction is putting Fargo, Georgia on the map. “It will draw attention to a little area and town that was dying,” said Mayor Patricia Oettmeier.
A new two million dollar visitors center has been built right on the Suwannee River. Inside you’ll find everything there is to know about the River and the Okefenokee Swamp. “We wanted to catch the tourists as they come by here on the river and draw attention to this area,” said Oettmeier.
And just down the river, they’re breaking ground on a new 12,000 square foot eco-lodge. “This will be used for groups to come in and have meetings, we’ll have a catering facility, and it will have cabins for rental,” said Oettmeier.
Each summer, the Suwannee River draws about 250,000 visitors to Fargo. City leaders hope the new center will boost that number even higher, pumping more money into this town’s economy. “I had a vision to bring economic redevelopment to this area through an avenue that had never been tried before, and that was tourism,” said Oettmeier.
Even Governor Sonny Perdue is making plans for his family to visit. “I have such fond memories of the Okeefenokee Swamp as a child and I haven’t had the chance to bring my five-year-old granddaughters down yet so it’s about time they learned about this great area,” said Perdue.
The visitors center and eco-lodge will bring about 25 new jobs to the area, giving this little town the kick start it needs for a thriving economy.
Here’s a historical writeup with more detail. Remember, this building is not currently open to the public.
Suwannee River Visitor Center in Fargo (part of Stephen C. Foster State Park)
Suwannee River Visitor Center in Fargo
Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 8AM?5PM
Located about 18 miles from Stephen C. Foster State Park
Visitors to the Suwannee River Visitor Center learn not only about alligators and cypress trees, but also how buildings can be made from recycled car parts and plastics. Located in Fargo, just west of the famed Okefenokee Swamp, the center mixes environmental education with engineering showmanship. It is one of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources examples of embracing energy efficiency.
Adjacent to the Highway 441 bridge and backed by Spanish-moss draped trees, the visitor center overlooks a bend in the black water river where people can fish and launch boats. Inside, visitors learn that tannic acid produced by decaying vegetation is what gives the river its tea color, and that unlike other reptiles, mother alligators actively care for their babies. Animal displays include a black bear, bobcat, fox squirrel, otter, snakes, fish and numerous birds, including an endangered wood stork. A short film takes visitors on a leisurely trip through the river and swamp, highlighting flowers, insects, misty morning fog and the many creatures that call the waters home. The center also includes exhibits on the timber industry and local history.
The DNR worked with the architectural firm Culpepper, McAuliffe and Meaders Inc. (CMMI) of Atlanta and Cauthan Construction of Valdosta to build the 7,000-square-foot environmentally friendly center. A third of the building materials was made from recycled content, including decking made from plastics, insulation made from newspaper, and a retaining wall made from old dashboards and electrical cables. Water use is significantly reduced by using the latest composting toilets and a rainwater collection system. Even the parking lot is made from porous concrete, significantly reducing storm water runoff that enters the river. Georgia Power Company donated an electrical vehicle for the staff to drive, lighting comes from the numerous windows, and a high-efficiency heating and air conditioning unit improves indoor air quality.
Land for the new attraction was donated by Superior Pine Products Company under the leadership of President and CEO Bill Oettmeier. The adjacent administrative building was acquired from the Captain Planet Foundation and is a state-of-the-art low energy facility. Future plans for the site include an eco-lodge expected to further boost nature-based tourism in southeast Georgia.
“This new visitor center, which is located in a part of Georgia renowned for its natural, cultural and environmental significance, is economic development and tourism promotion at their best,” said DNR Commissioner Lonice Barrett. “It is a successful partnership between the city of Fargo under leadership from Mayor Patricia Oettmeier, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Natural Resources.”
The Suwannee River Visitor Center is administratively linked to Stephen C. Foster State Park near Fargo, the western gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp. The center will be open Wednesday ? Sunday, 9 a.m. ? 5 p.m. Camping, cottages and picnic sites are located 18 miles away at the state park. For more information, call 912-637-5274 or visit www.gastateparks.org.
FACTS ABOUT THE CENTER:
- 10-minute, high definition, surround sound film
- Mounted animals (black bear, bobcat, fox squirrel, otter, snakes, fish and birds, including an endangered wood stork)
- Live exhibits (coming summer 2004, snake, tree frogs and carnivorous plants)
- Swamp and river history
- Timber industry
- Local history
- Energy-efficient construction
- Interactive exhibits
- Composting toilets use no water and solar fans for ventilation
- Insulation made from recycled newsprint treated to be fire retardant
- Parking lot made from porous concrete to reduce storm water runoff
- Decking made from recycled plastic
- Retaining wall made from recycled electrical cable and automobile dashboards
- Carpet and ceiling tiles made from recycled materials
- Natural lighting
- High-efficiency heating and air conditioning unit
- Electrical vehicle
- 70% of all building materials from local sources
- 30% of all materials have recycled content
- 47% more energy-efficient than regular buildings of its size
- 77% construction waste was recycled
Ribbon-cutting ceremony: June 15, 2004
Architect: Culpepper, McAuliffe and Meaders Inc. (CMMI) of Atlanta
Contractor: Cauthan Construction of Valdosta
Exhibit designer: Deem Loureiro of Atlanta
Exhibit fabricator: Southern Custom Exhibits of Anniston, Alabama
Size: 7,000 square feet (includes porch)
Cost: $2 million
Operated by: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
Accommodations: Camping and cottages at S.C. Foster State Park near Fargo
Mailing address: 125 Suwannee River Drive, Fargo, GA 31631
Location: Hwy. 441 bridge over the Suwannee River in southeast Georgia
Location: Hwy. 441 bridge over the Suwannee River in southeast Georgia
The Vistor Center was still open in fall 2008.
And in fall 2013, during the goverment shutdown. Terry Dickson, Jacksonville.com, October 8, 2013, With Okefenokee’s waters off limits, state park takes visitors down on the Suwannee River,
Stephen Foster’s lease on Jones Island inside the massive wildlife refuge ends at its boat basin. That means tour guides can’t take boats through the canal for tours on Billy’s Lake, Minnie’s Run and other swamp waterways.
The state park staff has found a substitute; a 2-hour canoe trip that begins at a private landing downstream on the Suwannee River, which forms in the Okefenokee, said Tommy Turk, regional director of state parks. After an easy 1 1/2 mile paddle, the trip ends at the Suwannee River Visitor Center at the U.S. 441 bridge in Fargo, Turk said.
I’m not sure what private landing they’re referring to, since the next well-known one upstream is Reeves Landing, about three and a half miles up from Fargo.
The Visitor Center was closed by February 2015.
I have not found any writeup on why or exactly when it closed. All the Georgia State Parks web pages seem to say is, in its page on the Suwannee River Eco-Lodge, “The gently flowing Suwannee River, with its tea-colored water and enormous tree trunks, is just a short drive away and may be accessed at the Suwannee River Visitor Center’s boat ramp.”
It sure looks welcoming when you paddle in after a day on the river, 14 miles from Griffis Fish Camp.
But it’s closed.
-jsq, John S. Quarterman, Suwannee RIVERKEEPER®