Several dozen visitors attended Bird Fest, and they talked with individuals involved in taking care of the forests and promoting ecotourism. Many of these groups had set up displays and activities for youths.
The new building will provide classrooms to encourage students to learn about the environment. Also, local bird watchers may use the site for their purposes. As if on cue for the occasion, several big hawks and other birds soared over and around the roads near the center. A friend and I saw them as we drove there.
Actually, we drove past the center and spent the next 45 minutes traveling in and around it before we arrived, ending up at one point at the Fruithurst Winery, about 18 miles out of the way. The helpful people who worked at the winery story there helped us get back on track.
Those of you from Oxford who wish to visit the center’s stone-and-glass site can find it by driving through Heflin on U.S. 78 and watching, on the left, for a large sign that says “Forte.” (It’s on the left just past the mile marker 178.) Turn there and go just a few hundred yards, and you’ll see the center, also on the left. Staffers said new signage would be erected in the future to better signify the site.
On Saturday, learning stations and exhibits were hosted by the Jacksonville State University Field School, the Alabama Ornithology Society, the Audubon Society, the USDA Forest Service, the Cleburne County Chamber of Commerce, the Cleburne County High School, Heflin PARD, Cheaha State Park, and the USFW Mountain Longleaf Wildlife Refuge.
While there, visitors should pick up a bird-list pamphlet at the front desk, which is a guide to seeing a large number of birds in the Shoal Creek Ranger District. Some of the bird names are Rock Pigeon, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Great Crested Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, and my favorite – Yellow-rumped Warbler. The pamphlet also has a place to log in the birds that birders might see.
“This site is one more piece of the ecotourism puzzle,” said Bill Wakefield, who is a member of the Calhoun County Birding Club. I met him and his wife, Linda, as they sat out back. The Wakefields have been birdwatchers for the past 40 years, and it’s a better hobby than golf, he said, and added that when birdwatchers fail to see a bird, at least they have had a good walk.
Actually, I learned the Wakefields were neighbors of mine in East Anniston, and it was nice to know people from not only Cleburne County had come but also visitors from several counties attended. The ecotourism industry depends on all entities working together, such as those who promote hiking, canoeing, and horse riding. All are available now in Heflin, as the mayor, Rudy Rooks, pointed out when he spoke.
Karen McKenzie, a district ranger for the Shoal Creek District, Renee Morrison, assistant director of the JSU Field Schools, and others also spoke. All were excited about this new resource.
The center looks similar to one at Little River Canyon and is part of this state’s efforts to take advantage of the in the vast natural resources Alabama has. Tourists and local residents are embracing our great outdoors. Through a partnership with USFS, JSU Field Schools have provided K-12 field trips for around 700 Calhoun County students at the Little River Canyon Mountain Center. They are offering dozens of nature programs beginning in 2013. (Visit www.jsu.edu/epic.)
Morrison is looking for volunteers to man the center. Those from the Oxford area who may want to help this great project should call her at 256-782-5697.
Pete Conroy, the Environmental Policy and Information Center’s director at JSU, was missing from Saturday’s Bird Fest. He has been largely responsible for bringing together several key organizations and entities to fund the center, which is free to the public. I later learned Conroy was sick, which was bad because he is one of the main ones to tirelessly promote ecotourism in North Alabama. He, along with and all of those who made the new center possible should be thanked.
Email Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org