The Oak Mountain State Park Interpretive Center moved a step nearer reality Sept. 21 as the entities supporting the project gathered at Samford University to discuss plans and sign agreements to develop and support the center.
Samford, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Friends of Oak Mountain are collaborating in the effort to build the multipurpose education center.
"The center will have the state park as an outdoor classroom and will promote and sponsor educational programs for K-12 students, teacher workshops, college courses and research opportunities," said Samford Provost J. Bradley Creed. "It will offer public self-guided tours of nature trails, interactive exhibits and the wildlife rehabilitation center."
Alabama's largest state park, Oak Mountain has 9,000 acres of predominantly forested terrain.
Samford President Thomas E. Corts and Dr. Creed met with representatives of the other organizations to formalize the $1.5 million project. Also taking part were M. Barnett Lawley, commissioner, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Anne Miller, executive director, Alabama Wildlife Center; and Scott Stone, president, Friends of Oak Mountain.
Lawley pointed out the center would be the first such facility in Alabama, and added that Samford's involvement would add greatly to the center because it "brings those educational aspects that we don't have."
An architectural rendering of the center was on display.
Plans call for the center to provide hands-on interactive educational experiences enabling children and adults to learn about Alabama's biodiversity. It will also offer student and teacher research opportunities, and help all visitors understand the importance of environmental stewardship.
The interactive center will include exhibits depicting Alabama's natural resources, wet lab for teaching and research, classroom/conference room for academic and workshop use and an external bridge linking the interpretive center and the existing wildlife rehabilitation center.
Plans call for hiring an interpretive center director as well as renovation of some existing facilities to house the center. Subjects to be taught include ornithology, botany, herpetology, biology, mammalogy, astronomy and other branches of natural science.