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AWF Launches Alabama Nature Center Phase I

Alabama Wildlife - Fall 2006
By Tim L. Gothard, AWF Executive Director

Alabama Wildlife

It's an exciting time to be part of AWF! We have briefly shared with you our vision for a world-class outdoor education facility at Lanark in previous issues of Alabama Wildlife. Two key steps were taken recently in our quest to make this dream a reality. On June 14, 2006, AWF launched Phase I of the Alabama Nature Center (ANC) by signing a $1.26 million trail and boardwalk construction contract. This was followed with the signing of a $330,000 Outdoor Pavilion construction contract on August 25. Funds for Phase I were secured through the help of Senator Richard Shelby and through private donations.

Phase I will create over four miles of boardwalks and trails that will traverse the unique and abundant natural resources found on the 340 acres at Lanark. Complemented by the 7,200 square foot outdoor pavilion, these amenities will allow us to further expand our hands-on outdoor education activities and outdoor experiences for school groups and the general public. Most importantly, it will expand our leadership role in perpetuating the wise use and responsible natural resource stewardship ethic that embodies AWF.

The initial vision for the Alabama Nature Center was established by the AWF Board in January, 2001. Following that monumental and strategic decision, AWF conducted multiple focus group meetings across the state to determine if our vision for the ANC was indeed valid. Based on overwhelming feedback, our convictions were confirmed. The focus group participants reported to us a lack of outdoor learning opportunities that are hands-on, affordable and that fulfill core educational requirements. They also expressed to us a deep-seeded desire for a high quality outdoor education facility with natural resources such as ponds, streams, wetlands, fields and forests, and trails and facilities that would offer students and the general public a first-hand, world-class, outdoor experience.

Phase I is the result of the passion and commitment of many people. AWF Past President Bo Starke of Montgomery, one of the many AWF leaders who have devoted countless hours to this project, put it this way: "It is simply awesome. Phase I will provide more eductional opportunities for students and adults than we ever imagined. I'm proud to be a part of this and it fires me up even more to see it come to life."

AWF Past president Bill Ireland of Birmingham said, "All my life the outdoor experience has been my greatest passion. I want the children of today and tomorrow to have that same passion. This step will begin a new chapter in AWF's efforts to make sure it happens rather than simply hope it happens."

Dr. Jeff McCollum, AWF Past president from Decatur and a leader in the development of AWF's Conservation Education programs views it this way: "Conservation education was my top priority as AWF President and it remains so today. The concepts we have promoted through the Outdoor classroom Program, Discovering Our Heritage, and Lanark Field Days will come alive at the Alabama Nature Center. I'll be working to send every child I know through this facility."

Lee Thuston, long time AWF Board Memeber and current AWF 1st Vice president from Birmingham agreed, "This is just the first step. Our vision encompasses much more, including a Center complex and educational classrooms. Phase I will be a big help in bringing those aspects to reality as well."

Riley Boykin Smith, current AWF President from Mobile put it into context as he explained, "Right now, I'm reading a book called Last Child in the Woods which documents that our younger generations are losing contact with the outdoors and the natural world. We can't sit back and let that continue. Phase I is the beginning of a major step by AWF to help correct this trend."

When complete, students and the general public will be able to experience habitats that they seldom see up close, such as forested wetlands containing tupelo gum and cypress stands; beech, oak, and hickory dominated upland hardwood forests; and pine ridges - all in one place. Not only will they see it, AWF will also make sure that children and adults who visit the facility get hands-on and truly experience and learn about the outdoors. Activities will include the expansion of our popular Lanark Field Days for school groups, and programs such as youth fishing academies, basic and advanced birding, pond study and wetland ecology, outdoor photography, young biologist and young forester clubs, wildlife management seminars, wildlife management demonstrations, and much, much more.

Stay tuned for more updates on the ongoing development of the Alabama Nature Center and the grand opening in Spring, 2007. Better yet, visit the AWF website and sign up for the "AWF eNewsletter" so we can provide you with the most timely information possible on this and other AWF projects and issues.

When planning your next project, plan on Nature Bridges!
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