Families celebrate wildlife at Columbia's Flat Branch Park

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 | 10:04 p.m. CDT; updated 11:15 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 20, 2012
Families enjoyed entertainment and activities and interacted with animals Wednesday at the Family Fun Fest at Flat Branch Park in Columbia.

COLUMBIA — When questioned if he would ask for a snake of his own after touching one, Shawn Keel gave a mischievous grin to his mother.

"We'll think about it," the 4-year-old's mother, Tracy Keel, said.

The black and yellow snake was only one of the animals featured at this month's "Explore Outdoors"-themed Family Fun Festival at Flat Branch Park. Columbia Parks and Recreation hosts a family-oriented event every third Wednesday of the month from April through September.

Wednesday's event was free and featured a balloon artist, face painting, bounce houses and live entertainment. Groups also brought in a wide variety of animals, including birds of prey from the MU Raptor Rehabilitation Project and fish and amphibians from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Although large numbers crowded around all of the animal booths, the Raptor Rehabilitation booth drew in the largest crowds throughout the evening. 

Michelle Walker, education coordinator at the Raptor Rehabilitation Project, showed off J.D., a Harlan's Hawk who came to the center after being hit by a car. 

Walker said J.D. is one of the center's more skittish birds and told spectators to "stay behind the table because he gets really scared if you get into his personal bubble." 

The booth also featured Ebenezer, a Barred Owl who recently made an appearance at the Harry Potter Trivia Night.

Musical group Wildheart took wildlife experiences from hands-on to onstage, performing twice during the event. This was the group's second appearance at the festival.

"We love it here," group member Jan Syrigos said.  "We are a puzzled piece that fits in perfectly here." 

Syrigos performed original songs alongside her husband, George Syrigos, and her daughter, Sophia. 

"The Reptile Rap" and "Harry Not Scary" were just two of the songs the group played at the Wednesday performance. Both required audience participation.

Alyse Dressler, 6, and Holly Dressler, 4,  were two of the children who got up on the stage with Wildheart to do the moves. Alyse said doing the show was her favorite part of the event because she got to play a turtle and a frog.

Their mother, Susan Dressler, said she was visiting her brother from Georgia and thought they would come to the event since he was working at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife booth. 

"So far it's been a really fun event," she said. 

Also visiting from out of town were David and Vicki Earhart of Joplin, who were babysitting their granddaughter, Ava Mei, for the evening.

"It's fun seeing her just looking at the different animals," Vicki Earhart said. "She is just so intrigued and it's really cute." 

Recreation specialist Erin Carrillo is in charge of the Family Fun Festival activities each month.  She said that, despite the heat, the events have been averaging about 1,000 people, which is good for the two-hour festival.

Supervising editor is Hannah Cushman.

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