Rio Grande Valley nature sites host outdoor challenges for families

While visiting the Laguna Atascosa National Refuge in Cameron County last year, Stella Mull and her family were made aware of the Rio Grande Valley Adventure Summer Challenge.

“‘Let’s do this guys; this is awesome,’” Mull said she told her four grandchildren after hearing about the challenge. “Even the other day, I asked them do they want to do it again. They said, ‘grandma, let’s do it again.’ Then we started talking about the different places that were special to each of us.”

The Mull family of San Benito speaks highly of 21 nature sites in deep South Texas. The sites are all a part of a summer-long program that began in 2014 as a way to encourage families to spend time outdoors. Families with children 18 and under are tasked with completing at least 10 of 12 challenges from at least four different local nature sites by Aug. 26. The participants are asked to chronicle the challenges through a journal. At the end of the summer, prizes are awarded.

The free nature challenges are a way to get her grandchildren out of the house during the summer, Mull said. Along with her husband Raleigh Mull and her grandchildren Ryan Hite, Dylan Hite, McKenzie Mull and M.J. Mull, they make up a team they call the Ocelots (You get to pick your own team name).

“Today’s generation lives on the iPad and the Xbox,” the 59-year-old Mull said. “These challenges were a way to get us out to do stuff as a family. When we got into the car, no devices were allowed. You couldn’t be on your phone. The whole time it was loving nature and enjoying what we have around us.”

That was the concept when the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands & World Birding Center began offering the challenges three summers ago. In 2014, only five families participated and only the center offered the challenges.

The following year, the center reached out to other nature sites in the Valley to open their doors to the challenges. Twenty families completed the challenges in 2015. Last year, the number of participants ballooned to 500 from 120 families.

The challenges are modest. One asks participants to identify and draw four birds. Another requires you to take part in a water-based activity such as swimming, kayaking, fishing, etc.

Marisa Oliva, who manages the Edinburg Scenic Wetlands & World Birding Center, said many locals don’t realize they have options for outdoor activities in the Rio Grande Valley.

“We have these incredible and fun family things to do,” Oliva said. “It is a great place to bring out your kids. It is a great place to exercise. It is a great place to get away from the stresses of life. It is good for us physically, mentally and emotionally (to be outdoors). A lot of people are starting to make those connections. And every year, more and more families are discovering us and incorporating nature into their daily lives. There are still families that haven’t.”

The Mulls was one of the families that discovered the program last year and embraced nature.

“It is a different experience being out with nature and actually caring about it,” Mull said. “Now we see turtles and my grandkids will say, ‘grandma, grandma stop. Make sure the traffic is OK and help the turtle get across the street.’ And we would never think about stuff like that before.”

Kickoff events for the program will be held Saturday at eight of the nature sites. For more information or to register for the challenges, call (956) 381-9992 or visit or You can download the journal (one per family) online or have it mailed to you.

Peter Rasmussen (Team Peter Parker) will take part in the Rio Grande Valley Summer Adventure Challenge. Follow along as he attempts to complete the 12 challenges. Rasmussen will provide updates on his progress in The Monitor, through a video blog on the newspaper’s YouTube channel, monitornews and through the newspapers various social media accounts.


Roma Bluffs World Birding Center

(956) 849-4930

610 N. Portscheller St., Roma

Bluffs open daily, sunrise to sunset. Park opens 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday

National Butterfly Center

(956) 583-5400

3333 Butterfly Park Road, Mission.

Open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily

McAllen Nature Center

(956) 681-3333

4101 W. U.S. Highway 83, McAllen.

Open 8 a.m. to noon and 5 p.m. to sunset daily

Quinta Mazatlán & World Birding Center

(956) 681-3370

600 Sunset Dr., McAllen

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and until dark Thursdays

Edinburg Scenic Wetlands & World Birding Center

(956) 381-9922

714 Raul Longoria Road Edinburg

Open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and until 8 p.m. Thursdays. Visitor Center open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Old Hidalgo Pumphouse Museum & World Birding Center

(956) 843-8686

902 S. Second St., Hidalgo

Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Sunday

Frontera Audubon

(956) 968-3275

1101 S. Texas Blvd., Weslaco

Open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday

Valley Nature Center

(956) 969-2475

301 S. Border Ave., Weslaco

Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

Hugh Ramsey Nature Park and World Birding Center

(956) 216-5951

1001 S. Loop 499, Harlingen Open 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily


Falcon State Park

(956) 848-5327

46 Park Road, Falcon Heights

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and until 7 p.m. on weekends.

Bentsen-RGV State Park & World Birding Center

(956) 584-9156

2800 S. Bentsen Palm Dr., Mission

Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily Visitor Center open 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday to Sunday

Estero Llano Grande State Park & World Birding Center

(956) 565-3919.

154A Lakeview Dr., Mercedes

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Visitor Center open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday

Resaca de la Palma State Park & World Birding Center

(956) 350-2920.

1000 New Carmen Blvd., Brownsville

Open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Visitor Center open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday


Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge & Lower Rio Grande National Wildlife Refuge

(956) 784-7500

3325 Green Jay Rd., Alamo

Open sunrise to sunset daily. Visitor Center open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily

Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge

(956) 748-3607

22688 Buena Vista Road, Los Fresnos

Open sunrise to sunset daily Visitor Center open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday to Monday

Palo Alto National Historical Park

(956) 541-2785.

7200 Paredes Line Road, Brownsville

Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily


South Padre Island Sealife Center

(956) 299-1957

110 N. Garcia St., Port Isabel

Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily

Coastal Studies Lab

(956) 761-2644.

100 Marine Lab Dr., South Padre Island

Visitor Center open 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday

South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center and World Birding Center


6801 Padre Blvd., South Padre Island

Open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday

Sea Turtle Inc.

(956) 761-4511

6617 Padre Blvd, South Padre Island

Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

Sabal Palm Sanctuary

(956) 541-8034

8435 Sabal Palm Rd.,Brownsville

Open 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily