Some high flyers from Georgia Southern University, birds of prey from the Center for Wildlife Education, will play a role in this weekend's 44th annual Claxton Rattlesnake Roundup.
Freedom the Eagle is slated to appear in a stationary exhibit, while other birds of prey from GSU perform in flight shows at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Saturday at the Evans County Wildlife Club facility.
As it has since 1968, the roundup still serves as a snake hunt with rattlesnakes brought in live for prizes and to be sold by the pound. But the two-day festival includes many other things, and Wildlife Club President Bruce Purcell hopes that adding a variety of educational and wildlife-related attractions will help the event, whose paid attendance sagged below 15,000 people last year, rebound to the 20,000 mark.
"We wanted to add some interest to the festival. It has been really good over the years, but we just felt like it could use some changing up and adding to," Purcell said. "We had the space to do it and thought it was a good idea to attract some educational things into the festival."
Besides the birds and rattlesnakes, the 2011 festival will include an exhibit of native fish in a tank and electronic hunting and fishing simulators provided by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The Georgia Forestry Commission is sending Smokey the Bear, and the Ogeechee Riverkeeper has registered as an exhibitor.
The same clubhouse auditorium where the birds of prey appear Saturday will make room Sunday for the Southeast Spring Classic Turkey Calling Contest. Now in its 11th year, the contest lures top callers with a $1,500 cash grand prize in its Senior Division.
As he has done for several years, wildlife educator Steve Scruggs is slated to show both the captured rattlesnakes and his own collection of other snake species Saturday and Sunday in the open-air snake pavilion.
Festival hours are 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Sunday. The Rattlesnake Roundup Parade will travel east on Liberty Street and north on U.S. Highway 301 through Claxton at 10 a.m. Saturday. The parade is broadcast live on WTOC-TV Channel 11.
Earlier Saturday, Claxton High School's football field will serve as starting and end point for the Rattlesnake Run, with a one-mile fun run/walk starting at 8 a.m. and the 5K for more serious runners at 8:30.
All other events will be at the Evans County Wildlife Club building and grounds, found by driving west on U.S. Highway 280 from Claxton to Hagan and following the signs.
Freedom the eagle was a late addition to the weekend's lineup. Like other organizations that request shows from the GSU Wildlife Center, the Wildlife Club is paying for the privilege, and originally funded only flight shows involving hawks and owls. A visit by an eagle costs more, and Purcell said Tuesday that business sponsors had agreed to provide the extra $500.
The arts and crafts show has registered about 150 exhibitors. Out among the leather goods, wooden toys and funnel cakes, Ricky and Janice Prince and family will park a new walk-through trailer exhibiting their collection of more than 1,000 arrowheads and other Native American artifacts and fossil teeth of prehistoric animals.
Both Saturday and Sunday, Evans County's JOAD, or Junior Olympic Archery Development, team will host a 3D tournament for archers of all ages, outside the fence behind the festival grounds.
One area of the festival is devoted to children's activities. A new vendor will give individuals up to 175 pounds the chance to stroll on water inside transparent, plastic bubbles six feet across. This joins old favorites such as the climbing tower.
An outdoor stage will showcase a local dance academy, clogging groups and singers. These give way to the awards ceremony at 4 p.m. Saturday. It includes the crowning of the new Miss Rattlesnake Roundup, as well as awards for parade floats, an essay contest, and hunters who bring the most snakes and heaviest.
Purcell was pleased by long-range forecasts calling for fair skies and highs in the upper 60s and lower 70s.
"It's going to be a beautiful weekend," he said. "It's inexpensive. It's five bucks to get in the gate, with free parking, so you can come out and see and do a lot of things and not spend a whole lot of money."