At Grand Bay, learning about wildlife is, well, grand

The center, a joint venture by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Coastal Plains Regional Education Service Agency, offers several education programs and field trip opportunities as well as accredited teacher training. Students can roam the half-mile boardwalk while learning about wetland ecology, wildlife and plant identification, air quality, and plant adaptations.

Neda Hon, the centers director and environmental education coordinator, said Grand Bay has always been a popular place. "Since the center's opening 12 years ago we have been booked solid, usually filling the years calendar within the first three days, Hon said. At one point we had a waiting list of 3,500 students.

What I really get excited about is that at least 80 percent of our students and teachers are repeat visitors. I am proud that these teachers keep coming back year after year because it means we are having a positive impact."

Approximately 6,000 students and teachers visit the center every year.

Hon also offered these observations:

Learning that sticks: "A way I know that the hands-on learning really sticks is that since I started this program I have had a few students grow up to become science teachers. That's a special feeling."

Sharing the knowledge: I was in a restaurant and ran into a mom who stopped to tell me a funny story. As a family, they were driving along and the son saw a gopher tortoise in the road. The mom stopped to move the tortoise from the road and the young boy insisted that he only be moved off the road but not away from his home because as a protected species he had learned on his field trip to Grand Bay how important it was to leave (the tortoise) in his habitat, and not to keep him as a pet or take him far away.

The mom was pretty impressed. At that point, I was, too."

The mission of Grand Bay Wetland Education Center is to teach students about natural processes and relationships between plants and animals. In doing so, the hope is students establish a positive connection with the natural world and their place in caring for the environment.

The center is 10 miles north of Valdosta on 8,700-acre Grand Bay Wildlife Management Area in Lowndes County. The center and WMA include part of the Grand Bay/Banks Lake ecosystem, second in size in Georgia only to the Okefenokee Swamp.

The center is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday and available to school groups by reservation only.

For more information, contact:
Coastal Plains RESA
245 North Robinson
Lenox, Georgia 31637
(229) 546-4094 Ext. 113

Whether its enjoying a birds-eye view from a 54-foot tower, watching a bobcat eat or getting hands-on with an alligator, students can find a variety of fun and learning opportunities at Grand Bay Wetland Education center near Valdosta.