Branching Out at Living History Park attracts visitors despite inclement weather

Saturday's soggy weather put a two-hour dent in the Branching Out event held at the Living History Park, but visitors who were willing to put up with a chilly drizzle still got a chance for some hands-on lessons about the outdoors.

The educational gathering, conducted in partnership with the National Wildlife Federation, was intended to run from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., but a few rolls of thunder helped bring an early end to the event at around noon.

"The park is beautiful. The landscape is gorgeous. It's relatively small and easy to get around, and just a great environment for learning more about nature and history," said Christine Rolka, the National Wild Turkey Federation's education director, who had a stuffed, full-sized adult turkey on display, along with turkey calls and related equipment.

Stuart Smith, who runs a tree farm in Ward, offered a lesson on real Christmas trees versus the synthetic variety.

"Real trees are better for the environment," he said. "It's environmentally sound. It's a renewable resource, and we'd just like everybody to come out, have a good time and pick a farm-grown, real Christmas tree."

Rolka noted, "We had an exhibit where we were talking to visitors about how important trees are for wild turkey habitat, and encouraging them to come visit the Winchester Museum, in Edgefield, South Carolina, where our headquarters is located."

The park and turkey federation both have "treasure" status, in terms of being wonderful resources despite not having a tremendously high profile in their host area, she said.

Presenters also included North Augusta residence Vince Lamb, who offered some samples and information from his years of producing mayhaw jelly, fig preserves and similar treats.

Referring to the plants involved in his hobby, Lamb said, "Most of these form habitats for birds and animals. For example, I have a photo here of a redbird in my mayhaw trees. The local wildlife and local wildlife and trees also provide a lot of color to the area. Mayhaw trees bloom in April - beautiful white bloom. Of course, the other flowering fruit trees provide a lot of color to the area, also."

Carol Eldridge, a biologist with the Savannah River Ecology Lab, helped deliver a truckload of snakes and birds, along with a relatively friendly opossum. The morning's weather, she said, was less than ideal. "The great horned owl physically reacted to the peal of thunder by starting and getting all upset," she noted, packing up the animals and gear as the rain continued.

Plans are to have Branching Out as an annual event, based on feedback from Saturday's participants, according to Lynn Thompson, with the Olde Towne Preservation Association, which holds a variety of gatherings in the park every year.