Turtle Point: Hands on learning

Published 10:19 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2006

By By Janet Little Cooper
Local students from Byrneville Elementary visited Turtle Point Environmental Science Center last week to learn about fossils, rocks and minerals native to the state of Alabama.
These students were among the hundreds of children who frequent the center year round. According to Project Director, Shirley West, the purpose of Turtle Point is to provide opportunities for students and citizens of the area to develop an understanding of the Ecology of Big Escambia Creek, the Conecuh River Basin, and surrounding wetlands.
West teaches activities that coincide with the Alabama course of study in Science that keeps the students occupied in a structured program for the course of their visit.
West, a longtime teacher in Escambia County, Alabama has a separate curriculum tailored for students in Kindergarten through sixth grade. Students are able to learn from hands on activities about animal homes, tree identifications, plants and flowers, bird identifications, ponds and streams, just to name a few.
After spending the morning in a structured classroom setting, students are allowed to visit the interpretive lab at Turtle Point. The lab houses many specimens of mammals and birds that can be found in the Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem. Among the displays in the lab, are a fox, squirrels, wild turkeys, a bobcat, a deer, a fox, a barred owl, wood ducks and a raccoon. The classroom is home to a black bear, coyote and a wild turkey in full strut as well.
The lab at Turtle Point also offers many exhibits featuring live plants and animals found in Big Escambia Creek. A bee observatory houses a colony of bees, including a queen, between glass allowing visitors to watch bees enter and exit the building on a daily quest to collect pollen and make honey.
Turtle Point lab has a touch tank that is home to several species of turtles and fish that can be touched and held by the visitors. The students from Byrneville were able to touch a baby alligator, a flying squirrel and two snakes during their field trip last Wednesday to the center.
According to Turtle Point employee Roland Bradley, some of the fish and turtles on display in the lab were caught in the stream that flows directly in front of the center.
The lab houses living specimens in numerous aquariums and terrariums.
In addition to the living specimens, fossils, preserved insects, birds, mammals and reptiles from the area are on display.
There is something to be learned in every direction you turn in the center. Informative posters fill the hallways, and an on-site library is available for people to access environmental research.
The learning experience goes beyond the walls of the center as students are able to dig through a worm bed for wigglers, search for minerals in a rock bed, examine the cabbage in a vegetable garden and enjoy the sights of turtles in the outdoor turtle tank.
The Turtle Point Project also includes an extensive boardwalk that winds through the woods leading up to the banks of the Big Escambia Creek. The trial is home to many species of trees and vegetation common to the area as well as wildlife.
One feature of the trail is the Treetop Nature Trial Addition that takes visitors 20 foot above the ground.
"This is the Arboreal Walk," West said. "It is 20 feet above the ground and before the hurricanes, it used to be surrounded by beautiful trees. We have 50 pairs of binoculars that we bring up here with some students who sit quietly at the top and watch for birds. The Great Blue Heron is one of the birds we often see in the wetlands beneath."
According to West, the facility is about to be in the midst of some major construction with future expansions that are slated to begin soon.
The trail system is to undergo renovations and additions, which will include a canoe and kayak launch that will one day be open to the public. Other plans of expansion include the construction of a 750 square foot building.
The Turtle Point Environmental Science Center is a joint project of the Escambia County Board of Education, Gulf Coast Resource Conservation and Development Council in association with the Neal Trust, Exxon Mobil, ADECA, Senator Pat Lindsey, Representative F.P. "Skippy" White, Legacy, Inc., Alabama Power Foundation, Mrs. Voncile Bethea, and the Town of Flomaton, Alabama.
Turtle Point is open to students Monday through Thursday and is open to the public on Friday.

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