TENNESSEE COLONY — A host of dignitaries stood by and watched as the great-grandchildren of longtime TPWD biologists Gus and Lisa Engeling cut the ceremonial ribbon to officially open the new Wildlife Conservation Center at Gus Engeling Wildlife Management Area (GEWMA) Wednesday.

The GEWMA was originally named for landowner M.L. Derden, who sold much of the 10,958 acres to the state. It was renamed for Engeling – the first TPWD biologist assigned to the area – in 1951 after he was shot to death by a poacher.

According to TPWD Regional Director Nathan Garner, Engeling is the oldest of the 20 WMAs in East Texas and one of the oldest of the 52 statewide. The new Wildlife Conservation Center sets a kind of standard for future conservation education facilities, he said.

“This is the kind of facility that is more likely to be seen in a state park than a wildlife management area,” Garner said, “but in order to better to fulfill our mission as an agency – and to add better facilities as our visitation diversifies and increases – facilities like this one could help us do a lot of wonderful things in the future.

“This is more than just a building we’re celebrating today – we’re celebrating the road that leads to it, with its ponds and trails,” he added. “This trail connects with a whole other system of trails on this WMA and so it’s like one piece of what we have out here on this 10,000 acres, and it’s going to be a very important, critical piece for the future.”

Set back in a clearing near a small pond off the GEWMA’s main road, the center will offer classes and information on a wide range of topics geared toward adults and children, varying from landowner days to school-, Scout- and 4-H-oriented field trips and conservation education.

The handicapped-accessible facility features a large meeting room, displays of wildlife native to the area, informative maps, restrooms, two large shaded porches and a small picnic area.

Cook said that the focus of the building was to educate future generations about the value of the land.

“That’s what this building’s about,” TPWD’s Executive Director Robert Cook said. “You folks here with the schools, this is going to be your building.

“What it looks like a year from now, or three years from now, is your call,” he added. “We want to serve you, we want it to be exactly what you need it to be.”

Cook singled out the Engeling family for its contribution to the Parks and Wildlife Department over the past half-century.

“I never knew Gus but I knew your mom,” Cook said. “Lisa worked for the agency for 52 years. We all grew up with Miss Lisa. She’s absolutely the best and we appreciate the family being here.

“This facility, as these guys have told you, has been a long time in the making,” he added. “We couldn’t have done it without each and every one of you.”

Paul Engeling, Gus’ oldest son, grew up on the WMA land and recalled some of the times spent with his father doing field work, whether checking flow rates of streams or categorizing plant and animal species found on the land.

Speaking on behalf of the family, he thanked TPWD officials for building the new center, noting that his mother especially would have been pleased.

“She would be very proud and very pleased with what you are doing here on Gus’ wildlife management area,” Paul Engeling said. “I thank all of you for all the work that you’ve done and the way that you’ve honored my dad.”

Area Manager Hayden Haucke, who has served over GEWMA since 1984, played an integral role in seeing the project to its fruition from the initial idea to the ribbon cutting.

In addition to his work at GEWMA, Haucke also oversees the five WMAs which make up the Middle Trinity River Ecosystem Project in the middle section of the Trinity River watershed, including the Richland Creek WMA by the dam at Richland-Chambers Reservoir.

Haucke explained that the new facility had come about thanks to funds returned by Cook, then a divisional director at TPWD, to the GEWMA and RCWMA by Schlumberger’s after oil explorations in the two WMAs in 1996.

“I can remember (Cook) saying that the money generated on the management areas could be returned back to the properties,” Haucke said. “ I remember our goal back then was to have a facility that we could use to demonstrate approved wildlife management practices.”

Haucke said that WMA officials put together a list of goals and objectives that they saw as fitting to justify the need for such a facility. The list was approved in 1997 and became a key component in the facility’s design.

The list includes:

• Provide a teaching facility for area schools.

• Provide hands-on ecologically-based curriculum and permanent displays of plants and animals, especially photos and literature.

• Use for conservation-based inservice training for teachers.

“Our thinking was to get the conservation message in the classroom,” Haucke explained. “It’s better that the teachers take that message to the kids than if we try to do it.”

In addition, the facility also would be used to:

• Showcase wildlife management techniques and current wildlife research to landowners in the Post Oak Savannah.

• Provide a site for youth outreach events, such as KidFish, youth shooting sports, 4-H wildlife habitat judging events and hunter education classes.

• Provide a site for college and university field trips.

• Provide a location for conservation meetings and conferences in East Texas.

• Provide a site for meetings and interaction between natural resource agencies alike.

• Provide a location for meetings and field trips for conservation groups.

Placing the Wildlife Conservation Center inside the GEWMA puts it adjacent to the interpretative nature trails, wildlife management demonstration tour, wetland demonstration sites, prescribed burn area, natural shrub and marsh wetland area, lakes, Ducks Unlimited marsh project, wood duck nest box project, bottomland harvest site and Catfish Creek National Natural Landmark, among others in the area.

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Beth Foley may be contacted via e-mail at bfoley@palestineherald.com

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