Interpreting science: Center helps bring science to life

Published 3:33 pm Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tucked away at Oak Mountain State Park is a place where adults and kids alike see science come alive.

What started as an idea among former Alabama Wildlife Center Director Ann Miller, members of the Samford University faculty and the Birmingham Audubon Society has quickly become a reality as exhibits at the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center are open to the public, and more are scheduled to open before the end of the summer.

The center is funded by Samford University and Alabaster Mayor David Frings serves as the director.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to do all my life,” Frings said.

The center currently has several displays, including aquariums with live box turtles, a tiger salamander, a rattlesnake and indigenous fish in the park.

The fish aquariums are connected by a massive artificial rock formation, which represents different kinds of rocks found in the park.

A nearly 20-foot mural of Peavine Falls provides the backdrop for the rock formation.

To keep down the center’s costs, Frings has built many of the exhibits himself, and he also hired local artist Bruce Andrews to paint the murals.

Andrews’ Peavine mural features a scene of the falls following a rain shower, complete with local species such as monarch butterflies, a raccoon and a copperhead snake.

Andrews, who has drawn murals at places such as the White House Restaurant in Alabaster, Trentuno’s in Pelham and Pelham First Baptist’s children’s room, said it was a pleasure to be able to paint the beauty of Peavine Falls.

“I have hiked every square inch of this park in the last 25 years,” Andrews said. “I could have drawn it from memory.”

Andrews completed the mural in approximately 100 hours over two months.

Andrews is also going to paint murals of a mountain line and of a longleaf pine forest to complement upcoming displays.

Those displays will include an Oak Mountain geological history wall, a wall of fossils telling how Shelby County was formed and an exhibit called “A Delicate Balance.”

The “Delicate Balance” wall will demonstrate the positive and negative effects currently happening in the environment, and offer suggestions on how people can positively change the environment.

The center also offers outdoor displays, such as a butterfly garden and a backyard habitat.

Frings said the outdoor displays also serve as a great opportunity for boy scouts and eagle scouts looking to complete a project.

“We have a lot of need and opportunities for volunteers,” Frings said.

The main focus of the center, Frings said, is to educate both children and adults through interactive displays.

“It’s very much about education and awareness,” Frings said. “We’re trying to do hands-on things and not just looking at things on the wall.”

The Interpretive Center is free to the public and it is located next to the Alabama Wildlife Center. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m., and Sundays from 1-5 p.m.

For more information about the Interpretive Center, visit