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Annual Wildlife Expo sees high turnout

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Braden Rutland, 8, shows off the results of his catfish-grabbing prowess Saturday afternoon at the Lincoln County Wildlife Expo.

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Braden Rutland, 8, shows off the results of his catfish-grabbing prowess Saturday afternoon at the Lincoln County Wildlife Expo.

Calling this year’s Lincoln County Wildlife Expo “a tremendous success,” Lincoln Civic Center manager Quinn Jordan said Saturday, “We are probably looking at our biggest turnout ever.”

In part, Jordan credited the high turnout for this year’s two-day event to an increase in family attendance.

“We made a commitment to keep all kids’ activities free this time around,” Jordan said.

Festivities got under way Friday afternoon as Miss Mississippi Junior High America Nikki Tullos; Miss Mississippi High School America Alexis Carter and Miss Mississippi Collegiate America Kaley Ford snipped a ribbon to officially open the event (see photo on page six).

As rain came down softly outside the Civic Center Friday afternoon, participants were busy inside setting up booths displaying new products and offers, as well as items for a silent auction meant to benefit Woods, Wheels and Waters Outdoors, a non-profit organization.

Meanwhile, volunteers of the expo were getting things ready for the night and next day, filling pools of water for a catfish hand grab, setting up a bow-hunting course, complete with simulated animal targets, and arranging bleachers and tents.

The main benefactor of the expo, Woods, Wheels and Waters Outdoors, provides hunting, fishing and other outdoor recreational opportunities for children, youth and adults who suffer from a debilitating disease, illness, disadvantage or disability.

The organization provides outdoor recreational activities for wounded veterans as well.

Earlier in the week, Jordan announced the selection of a Brookhaven man to be awarded a “benefit hunt” with the organization in the next couple of months. Chris Thornhill received the news earlier in the week regarding his selection as one of the winners of this year’s benefit hunt.

Unlike Friday night, Saturday morning’s weather proved to be warm and sunny, perfect for some of the expo’s outdoors activities.

Burt Fleming of WoodBCreations carved his way through a giant block of wood with a chainsaw, slowly transforming it into an 18-wheeler. Fleming has attended the expo in the past, and some of his creations – such as a three-foot high carved wooden bear and a giant wooden owl – adorned his workspace.

Also kid magnets were the two large pools of water teaming with catfish ready for the grabbing.

One of the volunteers at the expo, Jake Case, pulled catfish duty this year. His assignment was to assist boys and girls into the catfish tanks. There, he taught them how to hand grab a giant catfish. Once the kids learned, they were eager to catch and lift their fish high into the air to show it off to their parents and/or friends.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Case, standing knee-deep in water.

Kids that weren’t circling the tanks seemed content to jump atop a giant “fun jump zone,” close to three stories high.

Jordan gave high praise to those who helped with the event this year.

“We wouldn’t have an expo without the volunteers. I can’t thank them enough for all the hard work they put into it this year,” said Jordan.

In the past, the expo has averaged close to 3,000 participants. There were nearly 60 booths by Saturday morning, according to Jordan. Last year’s expo had close to 50 vendors, marking an increase in sponsorship.

Some of the premier local sponsors included Brookhaven Honda, Farmbelt Equipment, Super Talk of Brookhaven and S&S Dragline.