Originally created 04/21/00

Swamp party will celebrate park opening



Earth Day in Augusta will be celebrated in the swamp Saturday.

The 30th observance of the ecology-awareness event also will mark the public opening of Phinizy Swamp Nature Park. The Southeastern Natural Sciences Academy, the nonprofit group that operates the park on Lock and Dam Road in south Augusta, will celebrate the occasion with an event featuring live entertainment, food, workshops and the natural splendor of the preserve.

"We wanted to make sure this was a special opening and anniversary event," said Beda Johnson, the academy's special-events coordinator. "We also want to educate the public. That's one of our primary missions with this."

Although the park has played host to countless field-trip groups and workshops since it opened in 1998, it has not been open to the general public until now.

"The last year has been an explosion for us, an absolute explosion in all aspects, from volunteerism to contributions to visitors to field-trip participants," said Jackie Maryak, the academy's director of administration and giving.

"This event is opening the final door because the one question we are always asked is, `When can I just go out there?"'

Highlights include a photo exhibition and competition by students from Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School and acoustic music from Galen Kipar. Food will be provided by Auntie Em's.

Other events include games, exhibits and demonstrations, arts and crafts projects and storytelling.

"We're open to anything as long as it doesn't require electricity," Ms. Johnson said.

Participating groups include the Art Factory, the Augusta-Aiken Audubon Society, Augusta State University, the Savannah River Ecology Lab and the Sierra Club. Ms. Maryak said she wants patrons to leave with a deeper understanding of what the park has to offer the community.

"There are two things I would like people to think about," she said. "The first is that right in their back yards there is this incredible place where they can see the preservation of natural resources in action. The other thing I want them to see and learn is that children are the future of our natural resources and they can use the park to teach them to be better stewards for the environment."

The academy leases 1,100 acres owned by the city of Augusta behind Messerly Wastewater Treatment Plant. Each month, about 500 students traipse through the swamp on field trips to learn about nature.

After the Earth Day celebration, the park will be open to the general public from dawn until dusk on weekends.

"We think people will be overwhelmed by this place," Ms. Maryak said. "I mean, it takes our breath away every day."

Park party

What: Earth Day 2000/Grand Opening Celebration at the Phinizy Swamp Nature Park

When: Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Where: The Phinizy Swamp Nature Park, off Lock and Dam Road in south Augusta

Admission: Free

Telephone: 828-2109

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.