The Georgia Department of National Resources along with the National Wild Turkey Federation held the 12th annual Outdoor Festival and J.A.K.E.S. Day Saturday at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield.
Each May, the festival draws families from as far as Alabama to participate in events and learn about regional natural resources and wildlife conservation.
The National Turkey Federation has sponsored the Juniors Acquiring Knowledge, Ethics and Sportsmanship (J.A.K.E.S.) Day for the last eight years with program director Linda May leading the way.
May, who is a fulltime wildlife specialist at the DNR, said the festival is one event that entertains and educates without costing families anything more than gas money.
"The bird of prey show and the snake show are especially popular," May said. "People love to see live animals. Even the ones who don't like snakes, they are curious about them."
The festival allows anyone to participate in archery and fishing regardless of skill. May said she spends up to four months preparing for the day's events, but the time is worth the payoff.
"It's great for people just to go to a free event with the kids during tight times when people don't have a lot of extra money to spend at Disney World," added May. "Anyone can come out empty-handed and learn about archery and other shooting sports without having to bring any equipment."
One of the highlights of the festival is the fishing pond where DNR staff hand out fishing rods, bait and tackle.
Cindy Price is one of those volunteers who comes out each year to lend a hand. This time around, she had the privilege to work with the children on the fishing pond.
"They catch and release brim, bluegill and hybrids," Price said. "This pond is overstocked and only used for fishing events like field trips and educational visits."
Price has attended the past seven events and said she enjoys the children, especially when they catch fish.
"I just enjoy watching the kids, especially the ones who have never picked up a fishing pole," she said. "This is an overstocked pond where they are almost guaranteed to catch fish."
Price added that more than 500 children fished the pond Saturday and the rod-and-tackle trailer ran out of fishing poles before noon.
May said the event is geared towards educating children, however even those with little exposure to the outdoors could benefit from the shows and displays.
"We hope to foster an appreciation for the outdoors," she said. "If they've never spent much time outdoors, they may not appreciate all these natural recourses we have and they'll be less likely to want to protect them so we hope this raises awareness and appreciation for those aspects."
The events culminated with the raffling of door prizes including fishing rods, hunting blinds, bird calls and wildlife decoy sets.
Overall, the festival attracted an estimated 1,500 people, including more than 700 children. Volunteers handed out 778 T-shirts to children who registered.
The Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center hosts several day camps throughout the year and anyone who wants to bring children to the fishing pond can take advantage of the hot spot on designated Saturdays throughout the summer.
For more information about the Georgia wildlife and the Charlie Elliot Wildlife Center, visit www.georgiawildlife.com. Also look for the Linda May's Wild Facts of the Week in The News.