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By BARBARA L. FREDRICKSEN
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 19, 2000
For 20 years, Karen Burwell did her bookkeeping in a windowless room at Northwest Elementary School in Hudson. "I had to go outside for lunch just to see the sunshine awhile," she said.
Now Ms. Burwell's office is a window-lined room overlooking some of the most beautiful sights in Florida, the Salt Springs Run and the wide-open Gulf of Mexico. It's part of the Pasco School District's Energy and Marine Center in Port Richey, where she keeps books and maintains the center's library. She's one of four full-time employees at the 25-year-old center.
"I love it out here," she said as she showed a visitor around the aquarium, museum, boardwalk, laboratories and dining hall. And no wonder. She has her choice of appealing lunch spots -- a covered patio near gurgling fish ponds, a deck overlooking the gulf, a screened-in dining room, a cozy porch with a view of the springs and bird nests, or even her desk, which has a panoramic view of water, trees and swaying salt marsh grass.
On Sunday, the public will have the chance to tour the facility, which is usually closed to everyone but elementary school students on field trips. The twice-a-year open houses let parents see where their kids go to learn about sea creatures and allow adults without kids in school to see where their tax dollars are going.
The open houses also are held to recruit adult volunteers to work at the facility. "Our volunteers do all kinds of things," Ms. Burwell said. George Simms is one. A retired pharmacist from Long Island, Simms has been tracking and testing water quality in the center's tanks twice a week for more than a year and a half.
"I am interested in marine science and interested in volunteering," said Simms, who also is a board member of the Coastal Conservation Association and the Coin Club of Pasco, and is the treasurer for Fish-On Fishing Club. He frequently talks about coin collecting at area schools.
Simms finds the surroundings at the Energy and Marine Center particularly inviting.
"I have been a fisherman and interested in conservation all my life," he said.
Volunteers also may serve in the center's aquarium or library, operate the computer, build tables, decks and other projects, work in the laboratory or do any number of other tasks that need to be done, Ms. Burwell said.
Sunday's visitors can use the Energy and Marine Center Tour Guide booklet to study the 14 learning stations and perhaps come up with their own ideas of how they could help out at the popular center.
Among the most interesting stations is the reverse osmosis plant near the entrance, which shows how brackish water can be made potable. It was set up by the Southwest Florida Water Management District to show one possible solution to the water shortage problems of the area.
The boardwalk's tide gauge measures the fluctuation of the tides, which the Pasco County Mosquito Control employees use to predict the density of mosquito populations. On either side of the walkway, the tea-colored water is full of snook, mullet, crabs and birds. The shorelines have both black and red mangrove trees.
The aquarium has live specimens from habitats surrounding the center. The museum has mounted examples of local animals and plant life.
At a glance
WHERE: 9130 Old Post Road, Port Richey (go west off U.S. 19 on Richey Road one block, south one block on Wilkins Street, west on Bay Boulevard, and north on Old Post Road through the marked gates to the end of the dirt road.) WHEN: 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday
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