PEARLAND — A flock of roseate spoonbill birds hovered in the trees, a vibrant streak of color against the mostly gray skies. A jogger, led by his panting black Labrador, dashed past a group of fishermen mining the rippling waters for catches.

Such serenity is difficult to come by within city limits, which makes the John Hargrove Environmental Complex a hidden treasure in Pearland, officials said.

“There are bald eagles that hunt these waters,” Urban Forester Jerry Bradshaw said. “Three usually perch in that tree.”

City Council awarded an almost $460,000 contract to Excel Paving LLC for the construction of a trail at the environmental complex in late 2015, funded through a Coastal Impact Assistance Program grant approved in 2013, according to an Oct. 15 article in Community Impact.

The mile-long trail officially opened last March at the Stella Roberts Recycling Center, 5800 Magnolia St., and since has become a haven for avid birders and outdoor enthusiasts, Bradshaw said. Cullen Ondracek, the city’s natural resource manager, counted 20 birds without any real effort earlier this week.

“If you’re really trying to bird, you can get a lot of them,” Ondracek said.

The complex boasts the state’s only municipal floating wetlands installation, according to houstonnewcomerguides.com. Using money from a grant by the Texas A&M University System and administered by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, staff members and volunteers made the islands using recycled materials to help improve water quality and provide a stable nesting area for birds.

“It’s retention ponds we’re making the best out of. Whenever it rains, all the water comes in here,” Ondracek said. “The idea was, if you look at the edge of that concrete wall, it’s not really great for planting wetlands because it’s too deep.

“But birds get the same benefits with floating. The pelicans love to nest on them.”

The wetlands help entice the birds to the area while simultaneously shielding them from predators such as raccoons, Ondracek said, resulting in all sorts of water birds flocking to the area.

“A lot of water birds nest together, and if a predator comes in, it’s like a buffet for them,” Ondracek said. “They look for areas that are safe for them to nest. It’s a pretty big deal.”

After enjoying the natural resources, residents can cross the street to the city’s edible fruit trail, a sidewalk lined with trees bursting with apples, grapes and pomegranates ripe for the taking — literally.

“Citizens can go out during the right time of the year and pick the fruit and take it home,” Bradshaw said. “They can go out for a hike and have an apple.”

City officials hope the complex soon will become the centerpiece for the Delores Fenwick Nature Center, which will offer educational displays for local students and a nursery brimming with native plants, Ondracek said. In the meantime, volunteers help maintain a pollinator garden near the wetlands to build up the complex’s supply of plants that thrive in Brazoria County.

“We tried to get as much native as we can,” Ondraek said. “We’re hoping we’re about a year away from the nature center.”

Erinn Callahan is a reporter for The Facts. Contact her at 979-237-0150.

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