• Laurel Contributor

Wild and Wonderful

by Ashley Stewart

Get to know your neighbors – it’s the 16th Annual Mountain Wildlife Days, July 12 and 13 at Sapphire Valley Resort.

It’s one thing to see pictures of the local wildlife in books or on Facebook. It’s a wholly different experience to see them in person.

Of course, the best place to see wildlife is in their natural habitat, though a personal encounter with a bear is far from entertaining. On July 12 and 13, the 16th Annual Mountain Wildlife Days will bring those “Wild Lives” to you, and take you to those “Wild Places.”

Sponsored by the Sapphire Valley Resort management, and MWD Director John Edwards, along with MWD sponsors and friends, this year’s event will open on Friday morning with a bird walk led by “birders” from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society. There are also two hikes to popular scenic locations and waterfalls led by experienced hike leaders Mike Kettles and Robin Lurie. Reservations are required (call (828) 743-7663), as group size is limited. These events are free.

On Friday afternoon youth groups, campers, children and interested adults will gather at the Sapphire Valley Community Center to get to know our native reptiles and amphibians from naturalist “Snake Man” Steve O’Neil. At 6:30 P.M., the Silent Auction exhibit will open at the Community Center, followed by bluegrass music featuring Benny Queen of the Wild Hog Band and Kelly Smith of Lost Chords at 7:00 P.M.. The main event Friday night will be “Bear Lady” Gaye Owen with a presentation on how to get along with our most interesting neighbors - black bears.

The real fun begins at 10:30 Saturday morning with “Live Animal Sharing.” Carlton Burke, one of North Carolina’s most outstanding naturalists, will present “Appalachian Wild” and a variety of his “wild lives.”

After a short break, the ever-popular Rob Gudger will bring two of his wolves and share his experiences with these important and misunderstood creatures.

The North Georgia Zoo will close the Saturday activities after lunch by showcasing several of their unusual, as well as some familiar, animals. In addition to being entertaining and informative, children and adults will have an opportunity to get up close and get to know some of the zoo’s animals.

There is a $5 entry fee for adults for the Friday evening event and $8 for all day on Saturday. Children are admitted free. For additional info, call (828) 743-7663 or email blackbears66@gmail.com.

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