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Alabama Wildlife Federation visits Rotary Club

Pictured are, from left to right, Allen Phillips; Jimmy Harris,Strategic Marketing Director with AWF; and Danny Rolling, Luverne Rotary Club president. Journal Photo/Beth Hyatt

Pictured are, from left to right, Allen Phillips; Jimmy Harris,Strategic Marketing Director with AWF; and Danny Rolling, Luverne Rotary Club president. Journal Photo/Beth Hyatt

Jimmy Harris, Strategic Marketing Director with the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF), visited the Luverne Rotary Club on Monday to not only talk about the importance of taking care of the environment, but to also explain what and where the AWF is.

“Let’s take a trip back in time to the 30’s and think about where our country was. Our crop lands were in disaster, we had overplanted the heart of our country, winds were whipping away at our top soil, we were clear-cutting most of the virgin timber in the south, our financial markets were in total deposition and greed was just rampant,” Harris began.

“Then a group of concerned citizens in south Alabama came together and said we want to protect our natural resources for our future generations. If we don’t do something now, we may not have what we’re enjoying for our children and grandchildren.”

Thus, the idea for the AWF was born. Established in 1935, the AWF today has approximately 25,000 citizen members and supporters.

In summation, the mission statement of the AWF is, “To promote the wise use of our natural resources.”

Based in this statement, Harris told Rotarians the three ways to accomplish this mission: conservation education, resource stewardship and hunting and angling heritage.

“Growing up, I spent most of my time outside; today, our kids don’t do that,” Harris said.

“So, a number of years ago, the AWF started this program called outdoor classrooms.”

Harris says that by getting schools involved in the outdoor classroom initiative, it can not only bring nature to the schools, but can also help connect nature with the subjects taught in classrooms, such as science, English, history and more.

AWF also offers workshops for teachers involved in the outdoor classrooms to help prepare them to incorporate nature into the curriculum successfully.

The AWF headquarters used to be in Montgomery, but a little over 15 years ago made the journey to Millbrook.

The facility houses 350 acres, along with five miles of trails and over a mile of boardwalks, an outdoor classroom treetop walk, the Nature Center, the NaturePlex and more.

The AWF also hosts events called Lanark Field Days, which enables students to come to the property and experience nature at its finest.

“We crafted lesson plans based on the Alabama Course of Study requirements to support that classroom teacher, so that they have a place to bring their kids to make science come alive and the kids can have fun,” Harris said.

“We want them to get mud between their toes. We want them to be able to hold a salamander in their hands. The AWF feels like we are going to lose a generation of our young people to that connection with the land. We think that loss of connection could be catastrophic down the line.”

The AWF also offers summer camps and day camps for interested individuals and other public programs such as wild game cooking lessons, photography, fishing programs and more.

The newest addition to the AWF is their NaturePlex building.

“Last spring, in its first year, we served over 8,000 school children. This spring, we’re hoping to do 9,000 or 10,000,” Harris said.

“We have a Discovery Hall with hands-on exhibits and live animals. We have a 120 seat theater with surround sound quality, we have a community room and all the latest technology and we have classrooms.”

A basic membership with the AWF costs $25 and includes four subscriptions to their magazine.

Members who have 25 acres of land are also privy to the benefits of having a management plan developed by trained biologists on staff with the AWF.