If you’re as eager as I am to see some new arrivals among our “Feathered Friends” this spring, join me Friday-Sunday, May 1-3, at one of Southwest Virginia’s most popular parks for a full weekend of bird and nature-related events.
Hungry Mother State Park in Marion, Virginia, plans to spotlight many of those opportunities in a brand-new nature festival that organizers have dubbed the Hungry Mother State Park Birding Festival. I will also be taking part in the festival by giving a program on the region’s birds during the festival’s evening program on Friday, May 1, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The timing for the festival couldn’t be better. Many of our favorite birds have been returning to the region after spending the winter months in warmer climes as far afield as the Caribbean and Central and South America. If you’ve always wanted to learn more about such birds as warblers and tanagers or hummingbirds and vireos, plan to come out to this wonderful new event at one of the region’s most popular parks.
I discussed the upcoming festival with Tanya Hall, who works as the Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience, at HMSP. She informed me that the seed for the festival was planted when Hall and other park personnel heard about the possibility of obtaining grant funding to support the festival.
“Once we heard about the grant being offered, we approached the Friends of Hungry Mother State Park to see if they would want to apply for it, and of course they did,” Hall said.
She praised the work of the Friends group in supporting HMSP.
“We have a wonderfully supportive Friends group here,” she said. “They assist us in many activities with hands on projects throughout the park and they sponsor various events throughout the year.”
She gave much of the credit for launching this year’s festival to Glenn Moorer, a Friend of HMSP, as well as a park retiree, who headed up the committee on writing the grant.
“He has a love for birds,” Hall explained.
A festival focused on birds seemed a natural fit. Hall, as well as Education Support Specialist Rachel Toward and dedicated HMSP volunteer Randy Smith all share a passion for birds.
“So, with all of us here with our affinity towards birds, birding was a shoe-in for one of the programs sponsored by this Public Lands Every Day Grant and Toyota,” Hall said. “We want to share our passion so others in the community have an opportunity to see just how special birds are.”
The planning for the festival has occupied several months.
“We have a weekend full of fun-filled bird activities,” Hall said. “We will be starting Friday with school field trips to the park.”
Some of Friday’s school-related events will feature Dr. Steven Hopp with Emory and Henry College, who will be discussing and demonstrating the banding of birds. In addition, the Blue Ridge Discovery Center will be providing two field trips on Avian Adventures.
“On Saturday we will have hikes geared toward more experienced birders and also beginners,” Hall said. “We have kayaking bird tours and a Saltville Marsh Hike planned also.”
Throughout Saturday, various booths will be set up to distribute information on birds, as well as other activities and agencies, in the area. There will also be a children’s activity tent.
Another event that Hall is certain many individuals will enjoy will be the live bird presentation, “Wings to Soar,” on Sunday afternoon.
“We have activities throughout the weekend geared to advanced birders and beginners,” Hall said. “By incorporating all ages and degrees of experience, we hope to instill a love of birds in beginners and offer a chance to advanced birders to share their skills with the rest of us and hopefully have the chance to network and meet new people in a hobby they love.”
The festival meshes nicely with other recreational opportunities offered at HMSP.
“Hungry Mother is one of the more popular parks in Virginia,” Hall said. “We have 18 miles of trails that you can either hike or bike and we have a 108-acre lake that has various species of fish available to catch. The lake is also a favorite destination for swimmers, canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders.”
Hall said the park is also fortunate to have an “awesome interpretation department” that hosts numerous programs each day that are offered not only to camping and cabin guests, but also to the public.
“You don’t have to be staying at Hungry Mother State Park to enjoy the activities we offer,” Hall noted. “We probably have the most unique name of all Virginia State parks, and we have a unique legend behind the name which is tied to Molly’s Knob, the highest point in the park.”
Several months ago, Hall also invited me to take part in the debut of the festival. I plan to present a PowerPoint presentation on birds, and perhaps a few other examples of nature’s diverse life, in a program that will spotlight birds throughout all four of the seasons.
“Many of us know you through the articles you write for the Bristol Herald Courier,” she said. “We look forward to your articles each week, and we are looking forward to hearing your presentation and to seeing some of nature’s finest animals.”
I’m looking forward to sharing my program with attendees at the first-ever Hungry Mother State Park Birding Festival. It gives me a unique opportunity to meet some of the readers of my weekly column. If you attend, be sure to introduce yourself at some point.
The festival will also feature Richard Moncrief, who is the Birding and Nature Observation Market Manager for Carl Zeiss Sports Optics.
“He will be presenting two programs on Birding Basics and on Binocular Know How,” Hall said. “I know I am always wondering what the differences are between binoculars and which would be the best to buy for what I use them for.”
Some local Master Naturalists, including Melanie Smith and Randy Smith, will be giving programs on Birding by Ear and Backyard Birding.
“All in all, I believe there will be a little something for everyone to enjoy,” Hall said. “We are all so excited about this weekend and hope that everyone will come out and enjoy at least one program, because once you come, you’ll want to stay for another!”
Although she has been employed only a couple of years at HMSP, Hall loves her job and her new home.
“I started in this position as Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience this past November,” she said. “I was hired as the Education Support Specialist or the Interpreter in July of 2013. As an interpreter, we hope to forge a bond with the visitors and our natural resources we have here at Hungry Mother State Park.”
This is accomplished, Hall explained, by “interpreting” the natural, historical and cultural world for park visitors.
“I have worked in various other jobs; preschool teacher, recreation supervisor for the Blue Ridge Job Corps, and federal Park Ranger for the U.S Army Corps of Engineers,” she said. “I love working here at Hungry Mother with our Friends group, with all the guests that visit our park, and with a staff that truly cares about you and making your stay at a Virginia State Park the very best. I truly enjoy my job.”
All the festival’s programming is free and open to the public. The only fees associated with the festival will be the parking fee at the gate, which will be $3 on Friday and $4 on Saturday and Sunday.
A full schedule of activities can be found on virginiastateparks.gov under the Events tab for Hungry Mother State Park. For more information, call (276) 781-7400.