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David Rainer: Mobile’s EcoWild Expo celebrates Alabama’s outdoors

Alabama is blessed with many natural wonders and diverse ecosystems that provide abundant opportunities for Alabamians and visitors alike to enjoy.

A group of folks in south Alabama wants to make sure one of those amazing ecosystems receives it due recognition. Hence, the birth of the EcoWild Outdoor Expo that will be held May 10-12 at the Mobile Convention Center on Water Street on the banks of the Mobile River.

The team at PMT Publishing and Mobile Bay Magazine, having published magazines in Alabama for the past 40 years, realized that the one aspect lacking in south Alabama was an exhibition that highlights the vast outdoor opportunities available to those who live on or visit the Alabama Gulf Coast.

Surf fishing is one of the ways to enjoy Alabama’s coastal waters. (Billy Pope photo)

The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) quickly agreed to become a partner in the event, and ADCNR’s four divisions – Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Marine Resources, State Parks and State Lands – will have a designated area in the convention center to share information and fun activities for the attendees.

“We were on board with the EcoWild Outdoor Expo from the start because our goal at ADCNR is to highlight the importance of outdoor recreational opportunities throughout the state,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner. “The Expo is a chance to share the great outdoors that I grew up in and worked in for most of my life. Most people don’t realize how biodiverse our Gulf Coast is with Mobile Bay and the amazing Mobile-Tensaw Delta, and the Expo will showcase that.

“With our ADCNR exhibits and activities at the show, we hope everyone will spend time with our staff learning how we work diligently to protect and conserve the state’s natural resources for future generations.”

Starting at the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta covers a land mass of more than 250,000 acres with more than 20,000 acres of water, not to mention the abundant swamps, river bottomlands and marshes. Congress named the Mobile-Tensaw Delta a National Natural Landmark in 1974, and the Alabama Environmental Council considers the Delta as one of “Alabama’s Ten Natural Wonders.”

The Delta provides fishing opportunities for a variety of freshwater species and several inshore saltwater species at certain times of the year. Hunting opportunities include numerous small game species, waterfowl, white-tailed deer, Eastern wild turkey and feral swine.

With the world’s greatest concentration of mussel, aquatic snail and crawfish species and more than 300 species of fish, the Mobile basin’s aquatic diversity is unparalleled in North America.

Dove hunting is one of the hunting opportunities that will be emphasized at the Expo. (Billy Pope photo)

“Partnering with organizations like the EcoWild Expo is crucial to our mission,” said Billy Pope, ADCNR’s Director of Communications and Marketing. “As Alabama becomes more urbanized, we lose our connection to the natural resources. We look for unique ways, like the EcoWild Outdoor Expo, to spread the conservation message and encourage people to explore Alabama’s great outdoors, which is for everyone.”

Stephen Potts, PMT’s Assistant Publisher, has enjoyed participating in the numerous outdoors activities the Mobile area offers, and he wants to use the Expo to share them with all Alabamians and those who visit the Alabama Gulf Coast.

“We see the enthusiasm for hunting and fishing and conservation around here,” Potts said. “We saw a gap where there wasn’t any kind of show like this in the area. We went and looked at other shows, like SEWE (Southeastern Wildlife Exposition in Charleston, S.C.), and we thought we’d love to bring that to the Mobile Bay area.

“We want to make this an annual event and grow it into something really big that people are looking forward to and thinking about every year.”

PMT Publishing’s Amanda White added, “The goal of the show is to remind people who have lived here all their lives what Alabama, and this area in particular, has to offer. The show will remind people what there is to do in the area. We’ll have vendors that will sell you equipment so you can enjoy outdoor activities. And a big part of it is to educate the public so we know how to take care of the outdoors while we’re still around. The Expo will provide hands-on opportunities that will show you how to enjoy our area.”

EcoWild’s goal is to raise the bar for this type of expo on the Gulf Coast by bringing outdoor enthusiasts the best in lifestyle gear, accessories and information on how to take advantage of the numerous outdoor recreation activities available. The Expo will also highlight the ecological initiatives that will ensure the Alabama Gulf Coast remains a beacon of the natural world. The Expo will have outdoor activities, vendors, educational sessions and guest talks, recreational exhibits, family-friendly activities, an outdoor-themed art gallery, food trucks and more. The Expo hours are noon to 6 p.m. May 10, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on  May 11, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on May 12.

“People may not realize that hunters and fishers are the biggest conservationists there are,” Potts said. “All the license fees go straight to conservation. We want to get that message out there. We love this area. We love the woods and water. We want to conserve them and teach best practices so it will always be this way for our kids and grandkids.”

PMT Publishing’s Events Coordinator, Frances Hurley, said the EcoWild Outdoor Expo is designed for attendees to view and possibly acquire the latest hunting and fishing gear, explore new activities, visit with outdoor lifestyle experts, as well as support conservation efforts.

“There is something for everybody,” Hurley said. “We want families to come for Mom and Dad to buy new hunting or fishing accessories, and there are activities for kids like the rock wall and Butterfly House. Outdoor Alabama (ADCNR) will have a great room filled with lots of activities. We want to make it fun for everybody.”

Activities at the Expo include:

  • Butterfly House – Attendees can observe different species of butterflies while walking among them in this screened-in exhibit.
  • Rock Wall – Challenge yourself and compete with friends as you scale a 26-foot-tall wall with all the gear needed to participate safely.
  • Touch Tanks – Aquatic species will be on display, including one from ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division with numerous saltwater creatures to observe and touch.
  • Junior Explorers – Young outdoor enthusiasts can experience outdoor education, displays and activities.
  • Art Gallery – See a curated collection of outdoor-themed paintings, sculptures and photographs.
  • Bees Exhibition – Watch live honey harvesting and check out an exhibition hive to learn more about how bees are so critical to our ecosystem.
  • Raptor Show – On Saturday of the Expo, expert handlers will display numerous majestic birds of prey.
  • Auburn Eagle – On Sunday of the show, the Auburn eagle will be on the Exhibit Hall Stage.
  • Axe Throwing – In the Grizzly Axes Booth in the Exhibit Hall, grab an axe and try to hit the bullseye.
  • Freedom Fidos – From shelter dogs to service dogs, this exhibit will showcase the training and learned skills of these canine partners.
  • Archery – Archery experts will be on hand to provide hands-on tips on improving your archery skills.
  • BB Gun Range – Firearm safety and basic marksmanship training are available at this indoor inflatable range.
  • Kids’ Fishing Tank – Young anglers can gather around the fishing tank and cast for the numerous fish that are swimming around.
  • BayMobile – Explore the wonders of the Gulf of Mexico and Alabama coastal waters without getting wet in this science classroom on wheels.

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians is the presenting sponsor for the Expo. Kristin Hellmich, Director of External Communications for the Tribe, said the Expo is a perfect match for the Tribe’s outreach initiatives.

“We have developed mutually beneficial relationships with Alabama communities to encourage service, education and development,” Hellmich said. “EcoWild Outdoor Expo matches our goals of local community economic expansion, as well as support for land and water conservation programs that impact all of us and our use of these resources, recreationally and otherwise. We look forward to working with the EcoWild team to celebrate outdoor activities in the beautiful Gulf Coast region and to educate the public about ways to keep Alabama and the Gulf Coast wild, accessible and safe.”

Visit https://ecowildexpo.com/ for more information and a link to purchase tickets.

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