Annual Texas Parks & Wildlife Expo Set for Oct. 4-5

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AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Parks & Wildlife Expo continues to add new activities while sticking to a hands-on, expert-assisted formula that has made it the largest free event of its kind in the nation. Last year approximately 42,000 people visited Expo at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department headquarters in Austin.

"Texas Parks & Wildlife Expo is like the world’s fair for the great outdoors," said Ernie Gammage, Expo Director. "If you’ve never tried these activities, it’s a great chance to see and do it all in a safe setting with expert guidance. In everything, you’ll find a message of stewardship, the idea that we all have role to play in the conservation of the natural world."

Expo premiered in 1992 as an annual tribute to the great outdoors, featuring activities related to hunting, fishing and outdoors sports. The event is also a way to teach visitors about wildlife conservation while introducing them to activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, shooting, bird watching and learning about plants and animals native to Texas.

New for Expo XVII is an activity called "Be a Diver." Sponsored by the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association, the "Be a Diver" program gives children and adults the opportunity to don real SCUBA equipment and dive in a 4-foot-deep 18,000-gallon pool with a local professional dive instructor.

"Be a Diver" requires participants to bring their own swim suits, but wet suits and private changing rooms will be provided as well as towels and a hairdryer.

Participants must be at least 10 years old and 54 inches tall. Children under 12 must have a parent in the pool with them; children under 17 must have a parent nearby. Anyone over the age of 17 can leave their parents at home, but why not bring them?

If mom and dad don’t want to try diving, they may want to hear featured guests Hector and Diane DeLaGarza, a husband-and-wife pro-angler team from Garland who will be on-hand to teach fishing basics and talk about their lives as professional anglers. The DeLaGarzas recently both placed in the top 10 at an FLW Outdoors fishing tournament in Michigan, the first time in FLW history that a husband-and-wife team finished in the top 10 of any tournament pairing.

The couple will head the Fishing FUN-damentals activity in which they will answer basic questions about fishing: how, where, what and when.

Diane DeLaGarza said that fishing is a family activity, and emphasized the importance of families making memories outdoors.

"It doesn’t matter if you catch any fish or not," DeLaGarza said. "What you’re doing is creating memories. In the lives we have today, we get so busy. For me, looking back, some of my best memories I have of my family are when they took me out fishing."

DeLaGarza said the Fishing FUN-damentals activity is for anyone who has ever seen fishing and thought, ‘That looks like fun.’ She said because families don’t have to have a boat and TPWD offers free fishing in more than 70 state parks, fishing is a perfect pastime to learn as a family.

Fishing "is like a gift you give them because if you teach children how to fish, they’ll never be bored," she said. "We compete so much with video games and things that keep these children inside, and they’re missing out on so much."

"Xtreme" shooting star Patrick Flanigan also will make his first Expo appearance. The 30-year-old world record holder began hunting with his father and great uncle as a child in Wisconsin.

"My love of shooting was sparked at a young age, and I just got hooked," Flanigan said. "I never had any plans or desire to shoot professionally. It just worked itself out that way."

Flanigan said his shooting show is like an updated Buffalo Bill or Annie Oakley trick-shooting event set to awesome visuals and music. He said the show is especially youth-friendly.

Another new activity this year is "Wildlife: CSI (Critter Scene Investigation)." Much like crime-scene investigators piece together clues in their line of work, children will get to touch skins, skulls and look at animal tracks as a way to identify and learn about animals in the wild.

Irene Hamel, a TPWD wildlife interpretive specialist, said "Wildlife: CSI" is a great way to introduce children to the outdoors.

"Kids aren’t spending as much time out-of-doors as they once did," she said. "At ‘Wildlife: CSI’ they can learn why a beaver’s hide is adapted for living in water; how different birds build their nests. They will hopefully learn that just because they may not see an animal in the wild doesn’t mean there isn’t any evidence of wildlife.

"We plan to have on display a CSI ‘scene’ where kids will be asked what evidence of wildlife they see. It goes back to encouraging kids to see what is around them."

Popular activities like the climbing walls, Wet Zone kayaking area, mountain biking, archery and shooting sports will return this year, as will touch tanks and ice tables displaying marine animals from the Texas coast.

Austin Energy is sponsoring an expanded area at this year’s Expo in which they will teach visitors how to practice conservation at home. The Green Zone will show homeowners simple steps to conserve energy inside their homes and attract wildlife in their yards.

Visitors who want to see live animals and learn about protecting wildlife will have two events they can attend. Chris Bellows from Sea World will bring his Amazing Animals show to the Expo at which visitors can see animals from all seven continents, and John Karger, a master falconer and raptor rehabilitator, will present a show with live eagles, hawks and other birds of prey during his Last Chance Forever Birds of Prey show.

While the activities at the Expo are intended to be fun, Gammage said there’s a message of stewardship behind each one. Part of TPWD’s mission is to get Texans interested in outdoors activities so that they will then have an investment in conservation.

"Some people say, ‘That stuff is wild. Why don’t you just leave it alone?’" Gammage said. "Mankind has too heavily impacted wildlife and its habitat. It’s incumbent on us to actively take care of our wildlife. Their health is our health."

Expo remains free to the public through the generous support of major sponsors such as Toyota, Anheuser-Busch, HOLT CAT, KASE 101, Recuerdo, The Dow Chemical Company, Time Warner Cable, Univision TV, Lake Fork Club, Academy Sports + Outdoors, Austin Energy, Cabela’s, Careco Multimedia, Inc., FPL Energy, Mossy Oak, ACM Tractor Sales, Arby’s of Central Texas, Austin Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Blue Bell Creameries, Briley Manufacturing, CEMEX, Crossman Air Guns, Hixon Land & Cattle Company, Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA), Shikar Safari Club International Foundation, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Weatherby Foundation International.

In addition to free admission and activities all day Saturday and Sunday, water, air-conditioned shuttle bus service and parking all are complimentary. Although food may be brought in, coolers are discouraged because of the long walk to the grounds. Special shuttles on site will serve persons with disabilities. Sorry, no pets allowed. Visitors are advised to bring cameras and sunscreen, and a little cash can be handy to buy food or outdoor gear and Expo merchandise.

Out-of-towners looking for a place to stay can call the Austin Convention and Visitor’s Bureau at (512) 478-0098 for hotel and motel information. To make reservations at a Central Texas state park, call (512) 389-8900 or book online.

There is limited free parking near the grounds, but the best way to get to the Expo is to catch a free shuttle bus at Highland Mall (Macy’s side) near I-35 and Highway 290. If rain shuts down on-site parking, all visitors must catch shuttle buses, which run from 8:30 a.m.-6 p.m. daily.

For more information about Expo, including maps and directions, visit the TPWD Web site or call (800) 792-1112.

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