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In touch with nature

The 4,000-square-foot Apalachee Exhibit Hall at the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort features many displays highlighting the delta ecology, beauty and natural diversity, including taxidermy displays of various animals, artwork and other items.

STORY AND PHOTOS BY JOHN N. FELSHER

Celebrate delta’s wetland riches
in an up-close way

Aptly named and situated where the Mobile, Tensaw, Blakeley, Apalachee and Spanish rivers converge to create the 250,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center covers 80 acres of reclaimed marshes along U.S. Highway 98, more commonly known as Battleship Parkway or the Causeway. The complex between Mobile and Spanish Fort will celebrate its 10th anniversary on April 13, 2017.

“The reason the facility is here is because we want to be the gateway to the delta for the purposes of conservation education, outdoor recreation and land stewardship,” Hank Burch, center manager, says. “It’s important to us to get people in touch with these resources and physically experience them so they can take better care of the resources and take ownership of them.”

The crowning jewel, the 4,000-square-foot Apalachee Exhibit Hall, features natural displays highlighting the delta ecology, beauty and natural diversity. Exhibits include taxidermy displays of various animals, artwork and other items. Open free to the public, the hall also contains live owls, mammals, reptiles, fish and many other exhibits.

“We have two live opossums, which are always visitor favorites,” says Shonda Borden, the assistant manager. “We have live fish, snakes, turtles, birds and alligators. Kids love the live spiders and insects, but they often creep out the parents. It’s important to teach children that we have a tremendous amount of insects and arachnids that are very important to the environment.”

Shonda Borden, the assistant manager of the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort, admires a stuffed bear on display in the Apalachee Exhibit Hall. The hall has displays of most of the animals that live or once lived in Alabama.

Visitors can even peer into an actual osprey nest. Staffers found the nest built very low to the water, making it vulnerable to storms. After the adult ospreys successfully fledged two healthy offspring, staffers brought the nest back to the museum.

“The nest was probably built by young ospreys and a storm would have taken it out,” Borden says. “We wanted those two adult ospreys to build another nest that was less vulnerable to the elements. Visitors can look inside the nest and see what the birds had been eating. People can see fish catfish bones, fish scales and a crab shell.”

Visitors can peruse the exhibits at their leisure or request a free guided tour. The center accommodates about 8,000 to 12,000 student groups per year. Many tours begin in the 90-seat Tensaw Theater, which periodically shows nature documentaries.

“Most students are from pre-kindergarten to fifth grade, but we also get middle school, high school and even some college groups,” Borden says. “We also get Boy and Girl Scout groups, senior citizen groups and even veteran groups.”

After visiting the museum, people might take a hike on one of the trails meandering through pine and oak forests. The Battery Trail overlooks Sardine Pass and the Blakeley River. A mulched path runs through the trees and shrubs of Bowles Wood. Finish the outing with a picnic. Visitors can use two pavilions and multiple picnic tables on a first-come, first-served basis for free or reserve them for a small fee. Cap off the day by visiting the Cypress Gift Shop.

Hank Burch, manager for the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, shows a live gray rat snake to Kathy Hicks. The snake is one of several live specimens of animals that live in Alabama on display at the center in Spanish Fort, Ala.

While hiking, visitors might spot various reptiles, raccoons, opossums and other animals or see evidence of their presence. The area attracts more than 300 bird species throughout the year. During warmer months, look for alligators in adjacent waters. Endangered Alabama redbelly turtles lay eggs on the grounds.

People who prefer water can launch paddle craft at a new facility. No boat? Rent a canoe or kayak at Bartram Landing or take a two-hour narrated delta tour on a pontoon boat.

“We now have an ABA-compliant wheelchair accessible canoe and kayak launching facility,” Burch says. “We also have a new camping shelter in the swamp that’s only accessible by boat. We also operate the Bartram Canoe Trail where people can reserve floating campsites in the delta.”

The center also rents spaces for banquets, luncheons, weddings, business meetings, receptions or other such events. People can even request to rent facilities after hours. Up to 120 people can sit down for a meal or 300 can participate in other functions.

Throughout the year, the facility holds special events. In conjunction with the city of Spanish Fort, the Delta Woods and Waters Expo will be held April 27-29. In the fall, bird enthusiasts from all over will flock to the Alabama Coastal BirdFest. Also in the fall, children of all ages might enjoy trick or treating or taking a haunted hayride at Halloween. Special this fall, the center will host a traveling Smithsonian exhibit called “Waterways” from mid-November through mid-January, one of only six locations in Alabama to see it.

“Water is a big part of our story here at Five Rivers,” Burch says. “We wanted to bring in this exhibit and add a lot of local content to it. It takes a global perspective on water as a natural and cultural resource that ties humanity together.”

The Five Rivers Delta Resource Center, which is run by the state land management division, remains open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. For more information, call 251-625-0814. Visit www.outdooralabama.com/5-rivers-alabamas-delta-resource-center