Learning center to open at Oak Mountain State Park

On a quiet, peaceful ridge above the bustle of the main road is the wildlife refuge at Oak Mountain State Park.

Only three-tenths of a mile above the swimming area, the aroma of evergreens surrounds you as you step from your car or hike the trail to this peaceful summit.

A vacant building next to the wildlife refuge is the site chosen recently by Friends of Oak Mountain for a proposed new Interpretive Center, according to Verna Gates, a member of the group.

This building has been vacant for a number of years, she said. The building was originally designed as a conference center and leased as a restaurant. The restaurant failed however after a short period of time. The building has been unoccupied since that time.

&uot;The Interpretive Center will provide education and enhance the visitor’s experience, as well as protect the wildlife and natural ecosystems of the park,&uot; Gates said.

One of the benefits will be to schoolchildren.

They will learn to identify various species of plants, animals and trees at the center, Gates said.

&uot;Many of these children will develop a love of science from the hands-on activities. They will have field trips to the park for school students.&uot;

Activities will not be limited to children, however.

The programs that emphasize hands-on learning will be available to people of all ages, Gates said.

Workshops offered will include map reading and orienteering, hiking, kayaking, camping and outdoor survival. Many of these classes will be taught by qualified volunteers in the community or members of the Friends of Oak Mountain.

Money for this project has already been raised through a bond issue; however, the renovations will take less money than approved, according to Anne Miller, director of the Wildlife Center, already on site at the park.

Miller said the Interpretive Center is supported by Commissioner of Conservation Barnett Lawley.

&uot;The Interpretive Center will open. I am working on it right now with the Friends of Oak Mountain. We are consulting with the architect in regard to the renovation,&uot; Lawley said.

Miller opened the Wildlife Center in 1983 when the State Parks and the Wildlife Rescue Service agreed to a long term partnership.

&uot;I believe education of the public is essential to the long term survival of our wildlife,&uot; said Miller, who will oversee the classes when it opens.

Friends of Oak Mountain is comprised of several groups including Birmingham Audibon Society, the Wildflower Society, Vulcan Trail Association, Oak Mountain Orienteering Club, Oak Mountain Neighbors, Birmingham Biking Club and Sierra Club who have joined together for the preservation of Oak Mountain.

The Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain is always in need of volunteers but more so than usual now, during bird migration.

To volunteer, call 663-7930 or to report injured wildlife, call the hotline at 621-3333