Want to explore the native wetland wilderness of Georgia? It’s almost in your backyard.
Across the street from the National Infantry Museum on South Lumpkin Road sits Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center, a vast recreational and educational facility that offers festivals, nature walks, clubs, classes and more.
As the weather warms, consider it your go-to place for outdoor fun. You might be surprised at what you’ll find.
Land sakes — snakes! If you like things that slither, step inside the learning center to see a range of native and exotic snakes. Along with the frogs, bees and turtles on display, there’s eastern king snakes, corn snakes, rat snakes and a large reticulated python from Southeast Asia, weighing in at more than 150 pounds.
Of course, there are a few of these slippery guys out in the underbrush, too, but not to worry. Jenn Collins, program coordinator for Oxbow, said of the 41 snakes found in Georgia, only six are venomous, and of those, only three are found in the Columbus area. That’s the cottonmouth, copperhead and timber rattlesnake, she said.
Get an up-close look at each of these at the center while there’s glass between you.
Wild wildlife Of course, there are plenty of other creatures on and off the trails.
“It’s amazing what we have out here,” Collins said, “the great blue heron, the egrets, several kinds of ducks, eastern bluebirds. We have river otter. We have beaver. We’ve got beautiful stuff out here.”
Beautiful — and wild. At night, Collins said, coyotes can sometimes be heard howling. A bobcat has been spotted on the grounds before. And that sign notifying visitors they’re entering alligator habitat is no joke. There’s a resident, though often elusive, alligator that calls Oxbow Meadows home.
Of course, you won’t be overwhelmed by feral animals if take a stroll around the center. But if you want to catch a glimpse of a bird, lizard or anything else, be as still as possible. For birds, try arriving early in the morning. It can take patience, but it’s worth the wait.
School’s in Oxbow Meadows makes the environment interesting and relatable in a variety of ways. Pick up a good read with “The Nature of Books” Book Club or learn about horticulture with the Lynn Haven Wildlife Garden Club. Both meet regularly at Oxbow Meadows.
Wear your sunscreen and bug repellent and join in a nature walk, held every second and fourth Saturday of the month, September through May. The next walk begins at 8 a.m. May 14. It’s free, and the staff will even provide binoculars and field guides identifying local plants and animals.
And there’s a whole lot more.
Interested in bees? There’s a beekeeping class coming in June. Have kids who like playing outside? Sign up for a summer camp. Like gardens? Tour their pollinator garden, rain garden and organic vegetable garden.
The center and indoor exhibits are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays. The gate to Oxbow Meadows is open from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays. The site is also accessible via the Riverwalk. Admission is free. For more information, call 706-687-4090 or visit http://oxbow.columbusstate.edu.