Kids gleefully handled live snakes and lizards, sharpened their archery skills, learned to tie flies, identify skulls, pelts, animal calls and fished all at this year’s Wildlife Festival.
The festival, an annual cooperative event between the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Mogollon Sporting Association, U.S. Forest Service, and Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department, once again brought the park alive.
Jim Strogen and volunteers at the Payson Flycasters Club booth talked about fly fishing, including how to tie your own flies.
Kids lined up to hold a colorful eastern milk snake and a garter snake at the Forest Service booth. Christina Akins, with Tonto National Forest, taught the kids the correct way to hold a snake, how to identify them, antlers, animal skulls, insects and feathers. She even had a jar of bear claws and a Gila monster skull on display.
A great horned owl surveyed the crowd from its perch in the shade of Arizona Game and Fish, Adobe Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation’s booth.
Volunteers with the Phoenix Herpetological Society walked a white-throated monitor lizard around on a pink harness. Kids were allowed to handle a live ball python, bearded dragon and touch a large tortoise.
Venomous and other potentially dangerous reptiles remained in their climate-controlled enclosures. The collection included a western and eastern diamondback rattlesnake, king cobra, banded Egyptian cobra, albino reticulated python, and red-tailed boa. A rhinoceros iguana and savannah monitor were also on display.
Two young boys sparred over who was the best archer and a little girl tried her hand at fishing for colorful plastic fish on the grass.
Other booths included Arizona Wild Rescue, Phoenix Varmint Callers, Inc., Renewal by Andersen Window Replacement and Rim Country Museum.
Organizers say it was another successful year for the festival, teaching kids of all ages about wildlife and outdoor recreation.
Except for one little boy, the event was a sea of smiling faces.
“I want out! I want out!” he screamed as a canoe carrying him, his father and sister left the shoreline.
Other boaters splashed happily around the fountains, navigated the lake and returned to hand their canoe over to the next family.
On the return trip, the boy appeared calmer and even cracked a smile.