Festival educates young people about the outdoors

Published 1:34 am Sunday, March 7, 2010

NATCHEZ — Like many boys his age, T.J. Sewell’s interests involve outside activities that include a ball of some kind.

“I love sports,” 7-year-old T.J. Sewell said. “I like basketball, soccer, baseball and I’ve started practicing playing football.”

On Saturday, Sewell added another sport to the list — except this one isn’t played with a ball. Sewell accompanied his father, Theo Sewell, to the Wild Things Environmental Education Festival at the Steckler Multi-Purpose Building at Natchez High School, and was exposed to a bow and arrow competition.

“I enjoy the bow,” T.J. Sewell said. “It was fun. I shot a green balloon. I just love doing that.”

Theo Sewell said he brought his son out to the festival on the recommendation of his Cub Scout leader. Now, the elder Sewell said he plans on fanning the flame of his son’s interest in the bow.

“I’m going to buy him a bow so he can broaden his outdoor skills,” Theo Sewell said.

And T.J. Sewell already has a vision for how he’s going to utilize the bow.

“I’m going to make a wooden machine with moving targets,” T.J. Sewell said. “Each target is (worth) 10 points. If you can get 100 points in 10 minutes, you win. I’m also going to shoot a deer.”

His father, however, told him not to get too hasty.

“We’ll get to the deer eventually,” Theo Sewell said.

Generating interest in outdoor activities among young people was the primary goal of the festival, said Pete Smith, president of the Friends of St. Catherine’s Creek National Wildlife Refuge, which organized the event.

“The best thing is that we’ve had several hundred kids doing the learning and fun activities,” Smith said. “When that happens, the rest doesn’t really matter.”

In addition to bow and arrow shooting, activities included educational sessions on a variety of things found in nature, from spiders to leaves to snakes.

“My child heard there was going to be a snake here on the radio, and he wanted to see it,” said parent Laurie Wells. “We (came here) for the kids. I have outdoorsy children.”

Parents and children also had the chance to see a demonstration by the Mississippi Department of Transportation. A portable generator powered a vehicle rollover simulation; the cabin of a truck rotated over and over with an unbuckled dummy inside. The dummy was eventually thrown out of the window.

“We’re trying to show everyone why it’s important to wear a seat belt, specifically what happens when you don’t wear one in a rollover crash,” said Chirsty Milbourne, safety programs coordinator for MDOT.

“Roughly three out of four of Mississippi’s roadway fatalities are unbelted ones. If we can get one person to put on a seat belt after showing them this, we’ve potentially saved a life.”

While the regular activities were free, the festival also hosted silent auctions, a concession stand and a raffle for a Bad Boy Buggy. Bob Strader, refuge manager for St. Catherine Creek, said proceeds went to a potential education program, where kids from local schools could come to the refuge to learn about the outdoors.

“We have to try to help build a program,” Strader said. “We need to get both a building and a staff to run the potential session.

“There’s a real concern about people losing contact with the outdoors, and just staying inside and playing video games.”