As you drive across I-65 heading into or out of Mobile, you’ll cross the upper end of Mobile Bay, a vast body of dark water dotted with islands of golden marsh grass. The people of Spanish Fort call this area the “gateway to the delta.”
They’re referring to the 260,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw River Delta—the second largest river delta in the country. Often referred to as “America’s Amazon,” its rich biodiversity includes thousands of different species of rare and exotic plants and wildlife. It also offers some of the best outdoor recreation opportunities in Alabama.
Each spring, the Delta Woods and Water Expo celebrates all that the delta has to offer with a fun weekend of hands-on exhibits, presentations, and activities for students, families, and individuals. If you’d like to explore the delta, the expo is the perfect place to begin your research, and our quick guide will help you make the most of the event.
The expo is held the last weekend of April annually at the 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center in Spanish Fort. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources facility, with its extensive exhibit of delta wildlife, derived its name from the fact that five rivers funnel water from across the state and the Southeast to create the delta that eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico.
The city of Spanish Fort created the Delta Woods & Waters Expo to educate area residents, youth, and tourists about the extraordinary environment located in their own backyard and to heighten awareness, appreciation, and concern for these delicate natural surroundings. Admission to the three-day event is free.
Thursday and Friday are aside exclusively for more than 700 students and teachers from around South Alabama. On Saturday, the expo is open to the general public from at 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Exhibits and Hands-On Demonstrations
The 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center has an expansive exhibit hall where you can learn about the flora and fauna of the delta, but there’s much more.
Each year, the Environmental Studies Center in Mobile brings their birds of prey to the expo so you can stare eye-to-eye with live bald eagles and falcons. The Dauphin Island Estuarium also makes an annual appearance, bringing its touch tank so kids and adults can have an up-close and personal experience with many sea creatures that live in the delta and the Gulf of Mexico.
Throughout the day, experts in a wide variety of subjects hold short presentations and then give attendees opportunities to try what they’ve learned. Topics include knot-tying, kayaking skills, Leave No Trace principles, training retrievers, photography, fly fishing, and turkey calling. And that’s only a short list of what’s available.
Learn from the Experts
During the expo, several classroom presentations focus on the history of the region and its environment. In one class you might learn about Native American history, while in another you might learn about fossils.
A favorite each year is the presentation by Dr. John C. Hall, curator of the Black Belt Museum, who vividly recreates the life of naturalist William Bartram. In 1775, Bartram explored the delta, and Hall’s tales of Bartram’s travels mesmerize audiences.
Delta Tours and Paddle Trips
As you’re participating in the expo, you’ll no doubt be eager to get outdoors and actually explore the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.
During the event, WildNative Tours takes passengers through the marshes and swamps to view bald eagles, osprey, heron, pelicans, nutria, and alligators. The tour guides know their stuff and are very informative with their presentations of the history and ecology of the delta.
For something a little more exciting, you can rent a kayak and paddle the marshes alongside the gators.
It’s a good idea to book your seat on the tour boat or rent a kayak in advance because seats and boats go fast.
What to Know Before You Go
• The 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center is located on the Mobile Bay Causeway (U.S. Hwy 98/90) in Spanish Fort. Plan to get there early and get a good parking spot in the 5 Rivers Gift Shop parking lot. Shuttle vans are available to take you to the main event about a half-mile away in the center’s five main buildings.
• While the weather in April is usually mild and pleasant, mosquitoes could make an appearance so pack the insect repellent.
• Food and drinks are available for purchase at the expo, but you should also consider bringing extra water and wear comfortable shoes. There will be a lot to explore across the event grounds, including several short hiking trails that loop around the grounds.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL.