Wildlife Expo Offers Free Family Fun Oct. 4-5

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The premier weekend for hunting, fishing, camping and enjoying the outdoors is here again. Oct. 4-5, the Texas Wildlife Expo will take over Texas Park and Wildlife Department Headquarters in Austin and more than 40,000 visitors are expected.

Since 1992, Expo has been introducing Texans to the great outdoors each fall. The free event is the largest outdoor festival of its type in America and is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Expo visitors will need the entire time to look at the hundreds of vendors' booths and try dozens of free activities, including fishing, shooting sports, rock climbing, kayaking and more. With something for everyone, it's a perfect event for the family, especially those with children and youth.

For those who think they've seen it all before, Expo will have several new activities and programs this year. If you like sharing stories of your outdoors adventures, stop by Passport to Texas: Telling Texas Tales. This new presentation invites visitors to record a favorite memory of being outdoors in Texas, although storytellers younger than 18 need to bring along a parent or guardian. Participants may find their story aired on Passport to Texas, a 90-second weekday radio show, or have their picture taken to put on the program's Web site along with their story. The show is broadcast on more than 100 radio stations statewide and features interviews with outdoor experts and enthusiasts.

The Texas Forest Service will also be joining Expo this year, bringing along Smokey Bear to teach fire prevention and forest education. Since 1944, the furry public servant has been reminding everyone to prevent forest fires.

To learn more about another sort of conservation, Expo visitors should head over to the recently constructed retention pond on TPWD property for the "Wetlands and Wildlife" area. Rainwater is caught and purified, creating a home for wildlife in the area. Visitors can learn about storm water treatment as well as identify wetland plants and waterfowl.

The "green practices" area, "Design with Nature," is expanding this year, with booths and demonstrations about recycling, alternative energy and sustainable design. Last year, more than 26,000 plastic bottles were emptied at Expo. This time around, that plastic can avoid a trip to the landfill with the placement of more than 50 recycling bins, thanks to help from sponsor Tokyo Electron.

Just in time for hunting season, the fair has hunter safety information and opportunities for visitors to try out their crossbow, archery and firearm skills. There are programs for people of any skill level. All participants must first attend the short Shooting Safety Orientation at the Expo, which imparts safe and ethical practices.

Those who prefer the water in the Texas heat may check out the fishing and aquatic events. Diverse fish and marine organisms will be onsite for viewing. Fishing education programs can teach the hook and line-challenged how to catch that trophy fish. There's also a water safety program and an 8,100 square-foot tank aptly named "The Wet Zone" where Expo visitors can try kayaking.

After cooling off, there are booths to visit and learn about State Parks, camping and outdoor skills, rock climbing, mountain biking, archaeology and more. Living history comes alive as participants in period costume come from state parks across Texas to showcase life on the frontier.

Wildlife activities include scheduled shows where visitors can see live birds of prey and sporting dog demonstrations. "Settlers Prairie," a reproduction of the 19th century Blackland Prairie will give visitors a chance to experience the state's wildlife history and native species.

Expo guests should also see the Law Enforcement exhibits to meet game wardens, look at confiscated illegal hunting and fishing equipment, and learn a little more about the law of the land. The ever popular 'Whodunnit' activity allows visitors to play the roles of game wardens, trying to spot the violations committed when wardens pose as lawbreakers in a mock hunting camp.

All events are free, as are water and air-conditioned shuttle service and parking. Although food may be brought in, coolers are discouraged because of the long walk to the fair grounds. There will be special shuttle service to and within the fair grounds for people with disabilities.And sorry, no pets allowed. Fido might scare the wild animals or be scared by the noise. Visitors need only bring cameras and sunscreen.

Expo remains free to the public through financial support from sponsors. Major sponsors this year include Anheuser-Busch, Hewlett-Packard, Dow Chemical Company, Time Warner Cable and Toyota. Other sponsors include Academy Sports & Outdoors, AFLAC, Ancira Motor Homes-Temple, Arby's of Central Texas, Boone & Crockett Club, Canon USA, Careco Multimedia, Inc., ChevronTexaco, Coastal Conservation Association Texas, Gary Grant Sales, Inc., McBride's, Mossy Oak, Apparel, National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, National Wildlife Refuges in Texas, Omni Austin Hotel — Southpark, Polaris, Shikar Safari Club, International Foundation, Sun & Ski Sports, Weatherby Foundation International, Weyerhaeuser, and Winchester Ammunition.

The 2003 Expo promises to bring in crowds, so plan ahead, come early, and stay late! For more information about Expo, including maps and directions, visit the Web site (www.tpwd.state.tx.us/expo/) or call (800) 792-1112.