The new facility, which opened informally in November, includes an interactive exhibit hall featuring Long Island ecosystems, an environmental education classroom and lab, and a nature store.
"We are taking a big step toward linking urban communities with the outdoors and inspiring passion for our shared natural spaces right here on Long Island," said Michelle Williams, manager of Long Island refuges.
The new visitor center, which also serves as the refuge complex headquarters, was built to meet the gold-level certification criteria of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. It has water-efficient faucets and toilets designed to save about 26,000 gallons a year compared with a conventional building. A geothermal heating and air-conditioning system is estimated to save enough energy to heat three medium-size houses and cool one house for year. Solar photovoltaic panels will reduce electrical use. And the flooring in the multipurpose room is made of recycled rubber from old tires.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received nearly $9.8 million under the American Recovery and Investment Act in 2009 for design and construction of the 13,000-square-foot building.
Claire Goad, president of the nonprofit Friends of Wertheim National Wildlife Refuge, said, "It used to be we could only offer programs in warm weather because we had two green tents. We didn't have a building. Now school groups, senior citizens and scouts can use it."
She added that, in the past, her group was able to sell items only a few times a year to support the refuge. Now, the group has a store in the visitor center so it can increase its revenue.
Visitors can now also walk the new Black Tupelo trail. It adds two additional miles of hiking and two observation platforms overlooking the Carmans River.
The grand opening event May 19 will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with the ceremony at noon. Admission is free. Long Island Paddlers will be offering canoeing opportunities. Children must be 5 to sit in the canoe, 10 to paddle and be accompanied by an adult if they are younger than 16.
In observance of the 20th anniversary of International Migratory Bird Day, there will be displays and programs on migratory birds and conservation.
The guided birding hike and the guided canoe program require advanced registration. For a full schedule, visit fws.gov/northeast/longislandrefuges or call 631-286-0485.