By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Water Authority (CCWA) and the Newman Wetlands Center are making a big effort this weekend to get locals to learn more about their environment and the plants and animals that reside in it.
The Ninth Annual Wetlands and Watershed Festival will take place this Saturday from 10 a.m., to 3 p.m., at the wetlands center, located at 2755 Freeman Road in Hampton. Nature experts from all over Georgia will gather at the center to educate locals about the flora and fauna found in the Southern Crescent.
Suzanne Brown, spokesperson for the water authority, said the festival is the "largest public education event" hosted every year by the authority.
"The purpose is to educate our customers and those in surrounding counties about the importance of learning about their watershed ... the importance of protecting their watershed," said Brown. "It's learning about the environment in a way that's fun. It's a little more hands on than you would get in a classroom."
Nearly two dozen wildlife organizations will be in, and around, the wetlands center, showing off live animals and conducting guided-nature tours to identify local plants, animals, and insects.
The list of presenters includes: The Atlanta Audubon Society, which will conduct guided bird watching; Bubba and Friends, Inc., which will show off rehabilitated hawks and owls; the Dauset Trails Nature Center, which will exhibit a variety of reptiles; and the Georgia Wildlife Federation.
The event will also include several activities for families and children, including a nature scavenger hunt, face painting, and balloon animals.
Carol Lambert, senior conservationist for the Newman Wetlands Center, said October is an "exciting time" for wildlife. She said the quiet observer can spot a variety of insects, deer, raccoons, turtles, foxes, muskrats, otters, wild turkeys, and, rarely, bobcats and coyotes.
"As you get away from the hot weather, wildlife gets more active, just like people do," said Lambert. "There are a lot more food sources. Leaves that fall on the ground during the fall are really good attractors to insects. We have birds that are currently migrating to South America.
"It's not like a park ... it's much wilder," Lambert continued. "You never know what you will see here."
Lambert said having experts on hand helps clarify many of nature's details one may miss touring the wetlands alone. She said visitors to the festival will learn the importance the wetlands play in water retention, flood prevention, and water purity.
"The wetlands actually filter water," said Lambert. "If water runs into the wetlands, it will store it, and will release it slowly over time. If we lose our wetlands, we lose those abilities.
"[The wetlands] are very, very useful to the water cycle and Clayton County is one of the few counties in the country that is using them to recycle their water," said Lambert. "People who don't know a lot about it can come and learn how it works."
The Wetlands and Watershed Festival is free to the public. For more information, call (770) 603-5606.