Alex Hodges, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor
The Rome-Floyd E.C.O. (Etowah, Coosa, Oostanaula) Center was originally opened in 1893 as a freshwater pumping station for the city of Rome. Located within Ridge Ferry Park, it transported water from the Oostanaula River to the filtration complex atop Jackson Hill, across the road.
As a part of the 2006 SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) package, renovations were made to the E.C.O. Center in accordance with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards, which encouraged sustainable design and environmental performance of the building. Doors were opened to the public in 2011.
The Center has many educational programs for students from pre-K to college level, and they do classes for adults, striving to be an asset to Rome through family events, local speakers and other programs.
Ben Winkelman, director of the E.C.O. Center, started his job with the Department of National Resources (DNR) in Rome in 2012, and was a wildlife technician and conservation officer prior to his position as director.
“Before you can manage wildlife, you must first manage people,” Winkelman said.
Winkelman focuses much of his attention on the educational programs for community members and students, of which they see 10,000 to 12,000 annually.
“We try to educate people in Rome about taking care of their environment,” Winkelman said.
The E.C.O. Center has ties to Berry, as well. Winkelman said that they have had professors come from Berry to do informational sessions. Renée Carleton, associate professor of biology, has spoken at the E.C.O. Center about various birds and Berry’s eagles. Associate Professor of Geology Tamie Jovanelly has also done talks at the Center.
Students also have the opportunity work for the Center and learn about conservation efforts as well as native wildlife.
According to Winkelman, there are several Berry students involved at the Center.
One of those students is Natalie Bailey, a junior biology major. She found out about the E.C.O. Center through a Year of Service project last year, and beginning in May, she started a summer internship at the Center. She has been working there with other students since.
Bailey said that, for younger students, they have more traditional educational programs where they sit down and teach them, but they also have more fun alternatives, such as playing games and bringing animals out to have a hands-on learning experience.
Bailey also spends time at the E.C.O. Center learning things that coincide with her biology major.
“We get a lot of practice with animal husbandry,” Bailey said. “We also help make new exhibits about them and their habitats.”
According to Bailey, their next project is to pull plastic out of the river and, using what they retrieve, build a display about the harm caused by river pollution.