November 2016
Youth Matters

FFA Sentinel: A Walk in the Woods

Woods, Water and Wildlife FFA Day

  Lanark Park in Millbrook hosted the Woods, Water and Wildlife FFA Day.

In a world as fast-paced as the modern age, how many of us stop to smell the proverbial roses? Do we take the time to stop and think about nature and our natural resources or to contemplate how it all came into existence and the important relationship we have with the land, water, forests, air and every creature on Earth? Over 400 FFA members from across Alabama had the opportunity to attend the Woods, Water and Wildlife FFA Day hosted at the beautiful Lanark Park in Millbrook. The event was hosted over two beautiful, late summer days: Sept. 7-8, 2016.

Through great partnerships with First South Farm Credit, Alabama Farmers Cooperative and the Alabama Wildlife Federation, this event has grown annually from being only accessible to FFA members from the Central District to an event with chapters from all corners of our state and all three of our Alabama FFA Districts.

Lanark Park is conveniently located off Interstate 85 and is home to the Alabama Nature Center and new NaturePlex. The 350 acres of forests, streams, ponds, overlooks and walking trails wind through diverse regions of the property. The facilities include a 4,000-square foot Lanark Pavilion and the 23,000-square foot NaturePlex in addition to the two homes on the property. This preserved tract of property is the product of a dream shared by the Alabama Wildlife Federation and the Wiley and Isabel Hill family.

The Alabama Wildlife Federation, or AWF, is the oldest nonprofit conservation organization in Alabama. The organization was founded by sportsmen and outdoorsmen who had a dream to preserve and share the natural resources of Alabama and to educate future generations on the importance of natural resource management and stewardship.

FFA members attending Woods, Water and Wildlife FFA Day had the opportunity to experience the beauty of this property and to share in the stewardship and love that makes a property great. From the gardens surrounding the antebellum-style home to the diversity of the trails, FFA members were exposed to the various natural resources in Alabama. Of course, education is a key component to this program and, thanks to the very knowledgeable staff and volunteers with the AWF, FFA members were exposed to a few of our key resources and the relationships they have in our world.

FFA members discuss the importance of our soil and the importance of its wise use.  

After an initial registration, introduction and greetings from our partners, the FFA members were whisked away to explore the diversity of Lanark Park and the Alabama Nature Center. Students were divided into four groups and led by AWF staff to stations around the property. As I have heard often times "Everything has its roots in the soil," and so it would be with the journey our FFA members would take.

Thanks to the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service, students were exposed to the day-to-day duties of a soil scientist. Members also had the opportunity to learn how soil originates from a parent material to its current state and why that is important to the agricultural, construction and other industries. Students were shown how soil is classified and named based on its makeup and location. Hopefully, this site will interest FFA members and be an encouragement to take the knowledge back to their FFA chapters and join or start a Land Evaluation Career Development team.

FFA members also had the opportunity to visit the NaturePlex and have a conversation with one of our state’s conservation officers or game wardens. For our members who were curious about the science behind Alabama’s game laws and enforcement, this was a great experience. The members had the opportunity to interact and ask questions and to see that enforcement is only one portion of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

The application of science to make good management decisions on behalf of the citizens of the state, in order that everyone may choose to enjoy Alabama’s abundant wildlife the way he or she sees fit, is a central concept FFA members walked away with. Of course, there were great questions in this section, too. Those included everything from game law changes to qualifications for being a conservation enforcement officer.

FFA members then had the opportunity to explore the Hands-on Discovery Hall as part of the NaturePlex. The Discovery Hall includes exhibits on wildlife and our natural history of Alabama.

  Conservation enforcement officers had the opportunity to discuss Alabama’s wildlife with FFA members.

After exploring the NaturePlex, the FFA members were off to the woods to discuss tree identification and how different types of forest stands are managed differently for different management goals. Members were quizzed on their tree identification skills and given tips on how to remember certain species.

For those members interested, the Alabama FFA has a Forestry Judging Career Development Event in which FFA members compete to identify trees, make correct management decisions on forest stands, navigate a compass and pacing course, and measure timber for its merchantability.

As the day at the Alabama Nature Center began to wind down, students had seen the woods and the wildlife. The last stop on this adventure was the pond where members discussed Alabama’s water resources. We truly live in a state that is blessed by the abundance of our waterways.

Through the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University, students were exposed to the aquaculture industry and how our water resources can produce agricultural crops for human use. This includes fish and shrimp production as well as irrigation for farmers and recreation for all of Alabama’s citizens. Perhaps, more than that, our water resources and the good stewardship of those resources help to keep us healthy. FFA members explored careers in the aquaculture industry and had the opportunity to ask questions about the types of jobs and education needed to work in the aquaculture industry.

Over the course of the two days at Lanark Park, FFA members had the opportunity to live up to the "learning to do and doing to learn" portion of the FFA motto.

As they returned to their schools and chapters and shared their experiences of Woods, Water and Wildlife FFA Day, they will be able to fulfill the second half the FFA motto by "earning to live and living to serve."

By teaching and exposing FFA members to the outdoors and Alabama’s natural resources, FFA can provide the links to careers such as soil scientist, forester, conservation officer, wildlife biologist, ichthyologist, engineer or farmer. We each play a role in the preservation of our natural resources and, through partnerships such as those that make Woods, Water, and Wildlife FFA Day possible, young people can be exposed to the wonders of the natural world and enjoy being a crucial part in passing that stewardship along to others. Remember to just stop and smell the roses.

A very special thank you to First South Farm Credit, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Alabama Wildlife Federation, USDA NRCS, Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Auburn University, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, volunteers, staff and agriculture education teachers who expose the FFA members to great events like this. Thank you.

For more information or to learn more on the history, facilities and opportunities available at Lanark Park and the NaturePlex, please visit


Andy Chamness is the education specialist serving the Central District FFA.