Outdoor Expo coming to Oak Mtn.

Published 9:56 am Thursday, April 16, 2009

The hands-on, family-friendly Outdoor Alabama Expo returns to Oak Mountain State Park on Saturday, May 2 with outdoors-related activities for youngsters and adults alike.

The Expo will be open to the public and the admission fee to the park, located just south of Birmingham near Pelham, will be waived for that day. A wide array of activities are planned – fishing, shooting sports, boating, nature trails, just to name a few, as well as a wide variety of exhibits and demonstrations.

“We hope to expose people to outdoors activities that they may not have been able to participate in before,” said Kim Nix, Director of Information and Education with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). “We had Expos in 2003 and 2006. They were successful, but we believe this one will be bigger and better because we have more vendors, more activities and better advertising. We’re expecting several thousand people.”

Nix said Oak Mountain State Park makes an ideal venue because of its location and proximity to the Birmingham area with its urban audience.

“A lot of times, people who live in the city may not have the opportunity to experience things like archery, shooting, boating and those types of activities,” she said. “We especially want to focus on the kids. We’re looking at this as a family event. We hope the entire family will come because there is something for everybody.”

Activities come in numerous categories with the focus on hands-on and individual attention.

“For shooting, everyone goes through a short safety orientation before they do any shooting,” Nix said. “It’s one-on-one instruction to make sure everything is very safe. We’ll have archery, rifles, pellet guns and shotguns.

“For fishing, youth under 16 are actually going to be able to fish in the lake near the office. They are going to net off an area and stock it with fish so the kids are pretty much assured of catching something. That’s what makes it fun, especially for a kid, to catch something right away.”

Other fishing activities are split into freshwater and saltwater sections. On the freshwater side, other than the live fishing, there will be an aquarium and different species of freshwater fish on ice.

On the saltwater side, the Marine Resources Division will fill a saltwater tank with species caught on the Alabama Gulf Coast.

“They’ll have starfish, shrimp, crabs and small sting rays that have been de-barbed,” Nix said. “They will all be safe to touch. That is one of the most popular exhibits at these types of events. This is something you don’t see often. To have it in the Birmingham area will be exciting for the kids and adults, too. To actually get to touch it is something they normally only get to do in a museum-type setting.”

Marine Police Division boating safety will headline the boating activities. Marine Police has built a personal watercraft (Sea-Doo, Wave Runner, Jet Ski) simulator.

“You get on it and it moves like you’re on the water,” Nix said. “That’s something brand new and we expect the line for that one is going to be pretty long.”

Marine Police will also let the kids make their own t-shirts with a boating safety message, as well as make their own junior Marine Police ID badge.

In conjunction with Marine Police, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers will have small battery-powered boats at the beach area where kids will be able to enjoy a ride. Canoeing will also be available.

There will be plenty of displays with equipment used by ADCNR employees, including boats, ATVs and enforcement vehicles.

Conservation Enforcement Officers will also offer a guided nature trail where participants will be able to spot different animals that have been placed near the trails.

State Lands will provide information on the Forever Wild program that protects sensitive ecosystems and will highlight the educational opportunities available at 5 Rivers in Spanish Fort. The Information and Education Section will man a Wildlife Tracks Conservation Education Activity area and provide information on other Expo activities.

The list of exhibitors from other agencies and conservation organizations include:

1. Alabama Society of Traditional Bowmen will display the traditional longbow.

2. The Jefferson County 4-H program will have an ATV safety exhibit.

3. The Alabama Forestry Commission will have the Wildland/Urban Interface exhibit that covers fire safety and risk management for homeowners.

4. The Birmingham Zoo will have a reptile exhibit that people can look at up close.

5. Friends of Oak Mountain will highlight its support of the park.

6. And the Birmingham Urban Mountain Peddlers will talk about mountain biking.

Retriever dogs and upland bird-pointing dogs will be among the demonstrations planned, which also include turkey calling, backyard wildlife enhancement, snake identification and birds of prey – the raptors from the 4-H Center in Columbiana.

“Put all that together with food vendors and retail vendors and we hope to have a festival-like atmosphere,” Nix said. “We’re really excited about it. It’s spring, time for people to get outdoors and this could be a perfect event to bring the whole family. And it’s free. Normally there is a park admission fee, but the park is waving it for the day. The only cost would be to buy lunch.”

Preceding the event that will be open to the public, ADCNR will team up with the Birmingham City Schools on May 1 to expose inner city school children to the wonders of the outdoors at the Expo.

“There are so many kids out there today that have never been exposed to our great natural resources and the enjoyment of things you can do outdoors,” said Barnett Lawley, ADCNR Commissioner. “What we do is just show them a few of the things that they can do that are fun. Hopefully, these youngsters will start participating and take time away from the GameBoys and TVs.

“A lot of inner city kids in Birmingham have no other way to be exposed to the outdoors in the way we’re going to do that at the Expo. When the kids arrive at Oak Mountain, our staff will focus on natural sciences programs that will provide the kids with hands-on experience. It’s a great educational opportunity and will be a lot of fun.”

Visit www.outdooralabama.com/outdoor-adventures/expo for a list of activities and demonstrations planned for the Expo.