What’s better than hayrides, talking owls, shooting stars (meteorites actually), and your choice of Lobster Bisque or Chicken and Sausage Gumbo? Well, adding a visit from Santa to all of the above and more of course.
The Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (GBNERR) held their 5th annual Star Party which is free to the public each year. This amazing facility is tucked away among the savannah pines and salt marshes of the East Mississippi and West Alabama coastlines comprising nearly 18,000 acres. The staff and volunteers of the GBNERR set up hayrides to a viewing point at the head of Bayou Heron to witness the Geminid Meteor Shower among other interesting events such as:
- Screech Owl Walk – where not one but two owls were heard hooting back at the crowd
- Star Party Storytime – featuring camp-fire themed stories
- Reindeer Games – cornhole, ring-toss (in which I lost miserably to my kid and a guest)
- Cookie decorating and Space Crafts – guest get to use recycled and renewable items to make Christmas ornaments, Stargazers, Meteors, and of course Christmas cards
- Space Room – where Jamie Ellis, a Solar System Ambassador for NASA, shares amazing galactic images projected to the walls and monitors with details and information about the Apollo Missions
- Static display Interpretive Center – an awesome educational interactive display area of all the GBNERR’s habitat and mission
- Last but not Least – SANTA AND HIS ELVES! (my kid made 3 visits to make sure Santa had good notes).
All of this and some nice warm holiday fare on a cold crisp night courtesy of the local Newts and McAllister’s restaurants who provided hot chili, lobster bisque, creamy potato soup, chicken/sausage gumbo, and vegetable soup along with hot chocolate. Now even though it was overcast for the stargazing, the Galactic experts at the midway point of the hayride were equipped with telescopes, binoculars, AND IPads with star maps on them so even though you couldn’t see them through the clouds, you could use the IPads sort of like an xray viewer. One child even found the space station orbiting on the other side of the planet! So, yes! They are well prepared for just about anything Mother Nature throws their way. And new for this year was the ugliest Christmas Sweater contest which guest were able to vote on; there were some real winners in that one.
So, why does GBNERR put on this free event for the community? Well, for one, it’s fun of course! But they also want to bring awareness to those of us who live nearby and provide an enhanced-immersive education experience with this wonderful habitat. Also, as Sandra Huynh, Event Coordinator and Assistant to the Director explains, “to emphasize the GBNERR as a valuable resource for research, education, training, and stewardship of our coastal habitats.” Around 200 families were in attendance this year to enjoy this great coastal family event. Go to their website for more upcoming activities and events they sponsor throughout the year http://grandbaynerr.org/
Director, Dr. Ayesha Gray and the GBNERR staff utilize volunteers for this and many other educational events throughout the year and would welcome your willingness to help. Please contact Sandra Huynh at 228-523-4000 if you would like to inquire about future volunteer opportunities or find out more about how the GBNERR can host your group meeting at a facility that has a “wow” factor view.