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See bluebirds, tupelo gum trees on GWF hikes

The Georgia Wildlife Federation has 12 bluebird houses on its property at the Alcovy Conservation Center in Covington.

The Georgia Wildlife Federation has 12 bluebird houses on its property at the Alcovy Conservation Center in Covington.

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Tobias Villalovas marvels at a worm during a Georgia Wildlife Federation-sponsored activity. GWF, headquartered at 11600 Hazelbrand Road in Covington, invites the public to take advantage of free evening and weekend hikes around the grounds of the non-profit where visitors can see a variety of wildlife and habitats.

Staff members at the Georgia Wildlife Federation, an environmental nonprofit tucked away on 115 acres along the Alcovy River in Covington, invite the public to come walk the grounds and learn about Georgia's natural treasures.

For the first time, the GWF is offering free evening and weekend hikes through the property which features a variety of scenic wildlife areas and demonstration habitat gardens.

"We constantly hear so many people say to us, 'Well, we just didn't know you were here.' We're trying to cure that," said Robert Phillips, GWF volunteer coordinator who holds a degree in forestry and who is one of several GWF staff members and naturalists who lead the hikes.

Though the GWF is 75 years old, the GWF headquarters in Covington, at 11600 Hazelbrand Road, opened in 2000. The GWF Alcovy Conservation Center includes a main building with office, lecture, classroom and library space, pavilions, cabin and retreat house. The property also features scenic boardwalks and trails traveling through woodlands, wetlands and meadows.

The public guided hikes take place on Thursdays at 7 p.m. (with gates opening at 6 p.m. for those who want to bring a picnic dinner and eat before the hike) on June 14 and 28, and July 12 and 26. Groups leave from the Alcovy Conservation Center.

Hikes designed for children, which include nature crafts, are at 10 a.m. on June 16 and July 21. Registration for the children's hikes is required.

On the evening hikes, visitors learn a brief history about GWF and then proceed to explore a short hiking trail.

"We try to introduce them to the many habitats we have on the property," said Phillips, who added the hikes take between 60 and 90 minutes.

Hikers will walk through upland forests, which feature trees that grow in higher elevations; meadows which have grasslands and animals like warblers who nest in the grass; and wetlands where the northern most stand of tupelo gum trees grow.

The guides will discuss the habitats, plants, trees and species that live there. In the swampy areas, for example, visitors may see frogs, lizards and a host of aquatic invertebrates like damsel flies.

"The dragon flies are one of the most popular. We have some monstrous dragonflies that hatch out on this property. The kids always enjoy seeing that," said Phillips.

Along the trail, visitors will see the 12 bluebird houses where about 60 bluebirds fledge out every year. There's also a section along the trail where the old terraces, left over from the days when cotton grew on the property, are visible.

Phillips said the first hike he led at the end of May attracted 13 people, a good start, he said.

The primary objective of the GWF is to teach the public about the importance of preserving the environment, said Phillips, and the hikes are a good way to accomplish that goal.

"We're here to educate," said Phillips. "Hopefully, they'll want to protect the habitats for wildlife and keep those resources for future generations."

To learn more, call the GWF at 770-787-7887 or visit www.gwf.org.