A Bird’s-Eye View
By Stephanie Molina
Building coalitions that see a tourist destination as a shared product strengthen and strategically align a community’s economy. More and more, destinations are breaking down departmental boundaries to encourage collaboration and build product infrastructure that fosters a positive visitor experience.
A recent announcement from the Beaumont, Texas Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) illustrates how one community came together with parks and recreation, using an existing city water utility to bridge connections to build a boardwalk.
Construction is underway on the Cattail Marsh Wetlands boardwalk and viewing platforms. The new boardwalk will feature two covered platforms that will provide access to views of the wetlands’ abundant wildlife; the walk will stretch 520 feet across the most active habitat within Cattail Marsh, and be completed in time for the fall bird migration.
Elizabeth Eddins, CTE, Director of Tourism, was thrilled to see the project come to fruition after three years of extensive research and collaboration. “I am so pleased to see the construction of the Cattail Marsh boardwalk underway. Spearheaded by the CVB, multiple city departments, including Water Reclamation, Planning, and Parks & Recreation, contributed to getting the project off the ground. The group also worked closely with the Golden Triangle Audubon Society, nature organizations, and consultants to make the vision a reality. Cattail Marsh is a tremendous nature tourism attraction, and providing boardwalk access to such a prime birding hotspot will offer a new way for locals and visitors to enjoy the natural assets of Beaumont.”
An Aviary Paradise
The city built the wetlands after the U.S. EPA required the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to upgrade stream-quality standards. The Cattail Marsh wetland system went into operation in 1993; it consists of eight cells and occupies approximately 900 acres on city property. The treatment plant serves as a fine polisher to remove ammonia nitrogen, which is accomplished by aquatic vegetation providing service area and oxygen leakage in the root zone. In addition to being a cost-effective initiative that harnesses the power of nature to channel the city’s water, Cattail Marsh Wetlands provides habitat to hundreds of species of birds and animals.
Cattail Marsh is located within the city’s Tyrrell Park, and while it’s a functioning city water utility, the wetlands are used for bird-watching, jogging, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. The Beaumont CVB tourism department saw Cattail Marsh as an untapped natural attraction and went to work to make the wetlands more accessible for bird watching.
Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Slott welcomed the opportunity to work with other departments to utilize as many city resources as were available. Parks and facilities maintenance crews were able to salvage an existing open-air metal structure by pressure-washing/cleaning and adding picnic tables, trash cans, and a fresh coat of paint; what once was an eyesore is now a multi-use space that provides relief from the southeast Texas weather. “We were even able to use some old, roughed-up telephone poles damaged in past hurricanes as parking stops at the entrance,” says Slott. “It’s been a pleasure collaborating with all of our city services to bring this to fruition.”
Consultants helped the partners map out a plan, and the CVB improved signage and boosted marketing messages and public-relations efforts. Those initiatives have been well-received; Beaumont has garnered influential media placements in travel articles, and recently hosted an international birding journalist. As a result of bureau-driven sales initiatives, Beaumont has booked several notable group events and garnered a number of powerful endorsements.
In spring 2016, Victor Emanuel Nature Tours (VENT) chose Beaumont as host for its 40th Anniversary Celebration, which drew respected bird-watchers from 24 states and international visitors from Denmark, Venezuela, Canada, and Panama. VENT’s special guests included the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Kaufman Field Guides, the Owl Research Institute, Cape May Bird Observatory, and the American Bird Conservancy. For four days, the world’s most highly skilled tour leaders and experts visited Cattail Marsh and other prime regional hotspots.
“Beaumont, Texas offers easy accessibility to a diverse array of birding locations in one of the premier birding areas of North America, the Upper Texas Coast,” touts Victor Emanuel, widely regarded as one of the world’s finest bird-tour companies. It operates over 150 worldwide birding and nature history tours and cruises annually.
Two additional birding events held recently in Beaumont include a Galveston Featherfest Field Trip, and on April 26 the Great Texas Birding Classic Big Sit, at the site of the new boardwalk. Eighty-eight bird species were spotted by members of the Golden Triangle Audubon team over the 12-hour period.
Nature tourism on the Texas Gulf Coast generates $19 billion in annual spending, of which $6.5 billion is from wildlife watching alone. The lower Texas Coast released an economic-impact study showing the effects of nature tourism on the Rio Grande Valley. In 2011, the Valley saw $463 million from nature tourism, 62 percent from birders. These tourists generated extra local sales-tax revenue totaling $2,560,300 and $7,512,900 in hotel-tax collections. The Cattail Marsh boardwalk project will increase Beaumont’s share of the nature tourism market.
The improvements to Cattail Marsh’s accessibility will benefit bird-watchers, photographers, naturalists, and nature lovers alike. The wetlands provide habitat for a stunning diversity of birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians, and plants. Cattail Marsh is home to over 251 species of birds annually, due to the constant water source and positioning between two coastal flyways on the Great Texas Birding Loop.
“Our team, partners, and consultants have provided a multitude of valuable information and direction for this initiative. We truly feel like we’ve done our homework and are so pleased to announce this groundbreaking development in Beaumont,” says Dean Conwell, CDME CVB Executive Director. “Boardwalk construction was strategically planned to begin after spring migration and be complete before fall migration in order to avoid interference with prime bird-watching seasons.”
To keep up with the developments and learn more about Beaumont’s Cattail Marsh wetlands, visit www.beaumontcvb.com/cattailmarsh.
 Wildlife Tourism and the Gulf Coast Economy, 2013.
As the Beaumont Convention & Visitors Bureau Director of Marketing, Stephanie Molina creates marketing and promotional collateral to help sell Beaumont as a leisure-travel, meeting, and sports market. She is the mother of two girls and wife to a history buff (who probably knows just as much about Beaumont). Her free time includes hiking, art, and scouring the internet in search of DIY inspiration and how-to videos. Reach her at smolina@BeaumontTexas.gov.
About Cattail Marsh Wetlands
In 1985, the U.S. EPA required the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to upgrade its stream-quality standards. The city had to modify its treatment process to meet the discharge limits to the receiving stream. Three options were available:
1. Adding treatment units to the sewage treatment plant ($40 million)
2. Changing the discharge point to a larger stream, the Neches Rivers, seven miles away ($20 million)
3. Constructing a wetland system ($10 million).
How It Works
The Wetland System, Cattail Marsh, went into operation in September 1993, and allowed the city to comply with stricter stream standards. It consists of artificial and natural existing wetlands that occupy approximately 900 acres one mile south of the sewage-treatment facility. Treated wastewater is pumped through a pipeline, then an open ditch to the wetlands.
There are eight cells that flow in three different trains. The wetland cells polish the treated wastewater with a natural process using bacteria, algae, protozoans, and invertebrates. The polisher removes ammonia nitrogen. The process is accomplished by aquatic vegetation, providing surface area and oxygen leakage in the root zone. This supports populations of nitrifying bacteria that convert ammonia to nitrate, a beneficial plant nutrient.
After the artificial wetlands treatment, the water is pumped into adjoining natural wetlands for further natural processes to occur. Next, the water discharges into Hillebrandt Bayou.
The wastewater-treatment plant is a high-rate, continuous, recirculating, trickling filter design with three 15-acre polishing ponds.
The Wetland System consists of 650 acres of water that range in depth from six inches to six feet. Current studies and research for treating emergent pollutants are proposing the use of a wetland system for the treatment of wastewater, which has been part of Beaumont’s treatment process since 1993.