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8th Annual Wetlands, Watershed Festival Saturday

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

For the eighth year in a row, residents of the Southern Crescent will be able to expand their understanding of the natural world, as well as get up close and personal with deer, fish, foxes, raccoons, river otters, wild turkeys, and other animals indigenous to the wetlands of Georgia.

The Newman Wetlands Center in Hampton will host it's Annual Wetlands and Watershed Festival on Saturday, Oct. 6, from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m. Festival attendees will not only have a chance to get in touch with nature, but will also be able to enjoy arts and crafts, explore educational booths from more than 20 environmental agencies, and learn more from educators and trained conservationists.

"The reality is that a lot of our children don't know a lot about nature, but a lot of our adults don't know about it, either," said Carol Lambert, senior conservationist at the Newman Wetlands Center, the educational arm of the Clayton County Water Authority. Lambert said that many residents of the county are new, and have no idea that Clayton County is home to several varieties of plants, insects, birds, and animals that are not seen in any other parts of northern Georgia.

"A lot of people don't know it, but Clayton County is a bird-watching hot spot," said Lambert. "It's a little jewel that is tucked away down here [in Hampton], but we still manage to get 20,000 people a year here."

Suzanne Brown, public information officer for the Clayton County Water Authority, said the festival is the most popular event hosted by the Wetlands Center, drawing in about 500 visitors yearly. The event itself, including shuttles from the Blalock Reservoir on Shamrock Road, is free to the public.

"It's a great public education tool for us," Brown said. "It's an opportunity to get people out there into our local outdoors and think about how important it is to protect our environment."

In additional to face painting, live animal exhibits, learning how to stop habitat loss on their own property, and learning how different ecosystems operate, people who come to the festival will get to see dragonflies, several varieties of water snakes, and armadillos, that have recently made their way to Clayton County.

"You never really know what you are going to see here, so that's exciting," said Lambert. "You're not going to see [all the animals] every time you come, but you just might, if you are quiet."

Children and their parents will also be able to participate in a scavenger hunt around the Wetlands Center's half-mile walking trail. Hunters will make several stops in which they will have to record what they hear, smell, touch, and see.

"The goal is to get them to stop," said Lambert. "They are not running through the forest, hunting for mushrooms or anything. It's pretty tame, but it's fun. They don't even realize they are learning, they are having such a good time."

The Newman Wetlands Center is located at 2755 Freeman Road in Hampton. Visitors will be directed to park at nearby Blalock Reservoir and shuttle to the festival. For more information, call (770) 603-5606, or visit www.ccwa.us.