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Nature preserve presses on with annual Wild Azalea Festival

Photo by Curt Yeomans
There are several piedmont azaleas that are blooming at the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve in Morrow. The flowers will be highlighted on Saturday, during the preserve's annual Wild Azalea Festival.

Photo by Curt Yeomans There are several piedmont azaleas that are blooming at the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve in Morrow. The flowers will be highlighted on Saturday, during the preserve's annual Wild Azalea Festival.

Many of the azaleas at the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve have already put on their colorful show and wilted away, but that is not stopping the preserve’s staff from moving forward with plans for their third annual Wild Azalea Festival.

Nature Preserve Manager Stephanie Berens said this past winter’s unusually warm weather caused many of the azaleas to bloom early this spring. Since azaleas typically stay in bloom for only about two weeks, many of the early bloomers will end up missing the party.

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Photo by Curt Yeomans These Florida flame azaleas are some of the few remaining azaleas that are still blooming this spring at the William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve in Morrow. The preserve is scheduled to host its annual Wild Azalea Festival on Saturday.

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Photo by Curt Yeomans Red is just one of the many colors on display when azaleas bloom. The William H. Reynolds Memorial Nature Preserve in Morrow, is scheduled to highlight the flower at its annual Wild Azalea Festival on Saturday.

But, Berens said, people planning to attend this weekend’s festival will not miss all of the show.

“We are going to miss quite a few of the native azaleas, but we still have a couple that are late bloomers,” she said. “We’re not going to miss all of them, but we are going to miss quite a bit.”

The free-to-attend festival is scheduled to take place on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the preserve, which is located at 5665 Reynolds Road in Morrow. In past years, it has proven to be a popular draw among local residents. Last year’s festival drew close to 300 attendees, and Berens said the nature preserve is looking to have an even higher attendance this year.

“The weather is supposed to be absolutely perfect, so I’m hoping that’s going to draw people out,” she said. “It’s not going to be too hot. It’s going to be a nice, cool, perfect spring day.”

As far as the early azalea bloom is concerned, Berens joked that “you can’t schedule Mother Nature.” In 2010, when the first-ever festival took place, the azaleas bloomed just days before the event. Last year, the nature preserve manager said, a harsh winter meant the azaleas did not bloom until after the festival.

This year, there was a mild winter, with spring-like temperatures, and Berens said “it made everything, including the azaleas, bloom early.”

But, just a week before the festival, the nature preserve still had a variety of azaleas that were still blooming. They primarily included the pink and white piedmont azaleas, and the orange Florida flame azaleas.

Some of the azaleas had recently wilted, and some were still buds just starting to bloom.

Berens said it is unknown exactly how many azalea trees are on the nature preserve property, but she added the various types include the piedmonts and Florida flames, as well as the coastal, swamp and plum leaf azaleas.

“The native azaleas were the judge’s absolute favorite plant,” the nature preserve manager said, referring to William H. Reynolds, who donated the land that became the preserve. “He planted hundreds out here, many of which can still be seen out here today. So, we do this in his honor, to celebrate the plants themselves, and to get people out to Reynolds to celebrate environmental awareness.”

This year’s festival is expected to include exhibits from 18 different environmental organizations, animal groups, and parks, according to Berens.

The expected exhibitors include: The Smithsonian Institute, Callaway Gardens, Clayton County Master Gardeners, Clayton County Water Authority, the Georgia Forestry Commission, the South Metro Orchid Society, Tara Beekeepers, Falconry Sport, the American Rhododendron Society, and the Aware Wildlife Center.

There will also be guided hikes around the nature preserve, nature center exhibits, live animal shows, arts and crafts activities, face painting, native plant sales, hands-on workshops, and of course native azalea showcases.

Parking for the festival will be located at Babb Middle School, at 5500 Reynolds Road, in Forest Park, and a shuttle bus will carry people to, and from, the nature preserve. Call the nature preserve at (770) 603-4188 for more information about the festival.