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Bill Capo / Eyewitness News
Email: bcapo@wwltv.com | Twitter: @billcapo

NEW ORLEANS -- The Audubon Nature Center in New Orleans East is almost unrecognizable today, as nature is reclaiming the now-vacant land.

But not for long, as work to build a new Audubon Nature Center should begin by the end of the year.

'I am thrilled,' said Laurie Conkerton, Audubon Institute executive vice president for development. 'All of us are so excited to have the Nature Center coming back online.'

The Nature Center welcomed up to 80,000 visitors a year, until Hurricane Katrina damaged it so badly that demolition crews tore down the remains in January.

But bids are soon going out for an $8 million restoration that will repair the greenhouse and feature a mile of covered board walks, classrooms and an exhibit hall.

'What is going to be exciting is our planetarium is going to be state of the art, so we can get some real-time images from space and share them with people,' said Conkerton.

But the Audubon Nature Institute and the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana are looking for 300 volunteers to spend Aug. 29 out here, the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, because they've got to get rid of an invasive species.

The Chinese Tallow Tree doesn't look like much, but it is bad news.

'It likes our area, it invades, and it will actually overcrowd our native plants,' said Audubon Nature Center Horticulturist Dianne Weber. 'How much of a problem do you have at the Nature Center? Oh, it's all over.'

To get rid of the Chinese Tallow Trees the volunteers will apply an herbicide to kill them.

'We don't have enough Audubon staff to do this,' said Weber. 'We rely totally on volunteer help, so you've got several acres of land that haven't been touched.'

Then workers will replant the Nature Center site with native trees like Cypress and Oaks.

But if you find Chinese Tallow Trees in your garden, officials say you should take action.

'They need to be removed,' said Weber. 'They can go to 30 to 40 feet easily, fast.'

To volunteer, call the Coalition To Restore Coastal Louisiana toll free at 1-888-522-6278, or visit their website at www.crcl.org.

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