Sabal Palms Sanctuary set to re-open in Brownsville

      Harsh economic times and lack of funding forced the Sabal Palms Sanctuary in Brownsville to shut down on May 15, 2009.

      However, with new wind under their wings, directors there are hoping to bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars to Cameron County.

      Volunteer Manager Jimmy Paz said the sanctuary is a jewel that you're not going to find anywhere else in the United States."

      Volunteers have been working hard to get the 557-acre sanctuary ready by its reopening date on January 3, 2010 " even clearing brush from trails with machetes.

      Paz said the nearly millennium-old sanctuary was forced to close after funding from the National and Texas Audubon Societies stopped due to the dwindling economy.

      But that has all been left in the past thanks to the Gorgas Science Foundation which has donated funds to help reopen Sabal Palms.

      Larry Lof, president of the foundation, said the sanctuary is a perfect combination of science and history.

      "We work a lot with scientists and students and the Sabal Palm is this rare eco system that has come from the south and just pokes its nose over the border, Lof said. It TMs only here at Sabal palms and a few other patches, so to experience and study the tropics, this is about as close as you can get."

      Paz said the sanctuary is a world-class destination and a precious treasure.

      "We have plants in here that you may not find anywhere else, Paz said. As a matter of fact, Lady Bird Johnson TMs Wildflower Center came and collected seeds from some of our plants so that they could preserve them for future generations."

      Paz said before the sanctuary closed, it was estimated that about 10,000 people visited the center each year.

      A 1996 study showed that visitors to had spent $860,000 in Cameron county.

      "This was 14 or 15 years ago, Paz said. If we did a study now, starting today for next year, I bet these ecotourists are going to drop several million dollars in the community. It is going to have a big financial impact.

      Another draw to the sanctuary this time around will be the renovation of the historic Rabb Mansion which will become the visitors center.

      Lof and Paz said it's going to be a community effort to maintain the sanctuary open and they welcome any donations to help with the approximate $200,000 yearly operating budget.