Celebrating the Outdoor Lifestyle – Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival

Kevin’s is proud to be a part of Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival

By Didi Hoffman

Eighteen years ago, two patrons of the arts and outdoor enthusiasts transformed Thomasville, Georgia into a national center for the arts, in celebration of the outdoor lifestyle.  Now a nationally renowned wildlife arts festival, the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival  www.pwaf.org  appropriately coincides with the opening of quail hunting season.   The quail defines much of the southwest region of Georgia and the love of the outdoors, dogs, hunting, conservation, family and tradition.

Inspiration came to founder Bob Crozer, while attending game fairs in Scotland and England.  He felt Thomasville had the same love of the outdoors, family, wildlife and dogs that were celebrated in these festivals.  Bob was fascinated and especially loved the majestic birds of prey demonstrations at the different festivals along with the different artist interpretations of outdoor life.  His hope was that the people of Thomasville would feel that same joy he felt after attending these fairs.  He knew in his heart that the community would embrace a similar festival.  Inspired,  he felt the perfect person  to champion this wildlife festival would be his friend Margo Bindhardt – a woman who was passionate about the outdoors, a patron of the arts and a woman who knew how to create magic!

Bob Crozer  Founder of PWAF
Bob Crozer Co-Founder of PWAF had a great love of the outdoors.
PWAF Co-Founder Margo Bindhardt
This Painting captures the happy nature and love of dogs of Co-Founder Margo Bindhardt

Margo’s talents brought immediate success to the festival.  Once she put her mind to something, she thoroughly enjoyed engaging people to achieve a mutual goal. Louise Dunlap her daughter and Vice – Chair of this year’s PWAF remembers her mother’s love of the festival.  Margo “thought of PWAF as her family. She was dedicated to bringing first class artists and patrons of the arts together.”

A PWAF artist whom Margo and PWAF helped launch, Chris Chantland, spoke highly of her, her kindness and support towards all the artists. “I knew immediately and instinctively that she was a super-nice lady, and if you saw her without a smile or a gleam in her eye, it would be extremely rare.”  Louise added that “my mom always had so much fun at the show, mingling with artists, some of whom became dear friends.”

“Through the years PWAF has stayed true to the foundation laid by these two wonderful people,” says this year’s Chair, Gates Kirkham.  “Their principles and vision continue to guide our efforts to bring premier art to our region.”

Kevin’s Fine Outdoor Gear & Apparel shares the same goals of the original and current PWAF efforts. “My mother always believed that volunteers, committees, and underwriters were the backbone of the festival” reflected Lousie and Kathleen Kelly, co-owner of Kevin’s follows this same belief.   Like most working mothers, Kathleen juggles work and family but  is  committed to the success of PWAF and helps whenever possible.  In the beginning years, Kathleen was an integral part of the Preview Party, even working as Chair.  This special event allows people from all over the country who love fine wildlife art to preview the artist’s work in a less crowded environment than the actual daytime festival.   It  is the “kickoff” to a fun weekend and many of Kevin’s customers love going to the party.  Kathleen’s  favorite part of the evening  is  that  old friends and customers of Kevin’s have an opportunity to enjoy a relaxed evening of art and friendship, talking about art, hunting, their families and favorite dogs.

Featured Artist Peter Corbin's  "A Good Morning"  for Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival
Featured PWAF painting “A Good Morning” by featured Artist Peter Corbin for the 2013 Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival.

Kevin’s,  in support of PWAF is again excited to participate in the festivities.   Friday, November 15th during the Underwriter and Patron Parties, Kevin’s will present the prestigious gun manufacturer Holland and Holland and display some of their finest guns.  As a kickoff to the quail hunting season, the artistry and craftsmanship of these guns truly has a place in the Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival. They are a work of art.

To Kevin and Kathleen Kelly, Plantation Wildlife Arts Festival really reflects who  they are.  It speaks about their love of the outdoors , their support of the arts, their support of the PWAF beneficiary Thomasville Center for the Arts www.thomasvillearts.org and their commitment to Thomasville.

Holland and Holland Shotgun
Featured during the PWAF Underwriter and Patron’s Party, Holland and Holland will showcase some of their finest guns – works of art.

The core success of this special festival really harkens back to the vision and passion Bob Crozer and Margo Brindhart brought to it from its beginning. They planted the seed and gave the festival deep roots to sustain and grow over the years, and it now has a renowned status in the wildlife art world. Very sadly, both Bob and Margo have passed on, but their joy and spirit combined with their love of the arts, outdoors and Thomasville continues to shine on.

“My Mom was involved in a lot of ventures in the arts world, but she was most proud of PWAF,” says Louise, “she was always willing to help the show in any way that she could. She was even known to pick up garbage after the show.  Her love of PWAF showed not only in her dedication, but also in her heart.”

For tickets and information please visit www.pwaf.org.

Why We Love Our Quail

We love our quail!

By Didi Hoffman

Walking with fellow hunters or riding horseback across the rustling grain fields, you feel the tall grasses swaying along the path.  The pine trees stand majestic as a cool breeze whispers from their branches – your dogs are on edge, ready – working close and excitedly  to point a covey…as you walk anxiously past the dog, a covey rises in a  swift chaotic unity, and scatters.   Quail hunting season represents the very best in shooting sport!   It’s why hunters have been visiting the Red Hills Region of Georgia and North Florida since the late 1800’s in pursuit of the little bobwhite.   We are fortunate in this area to have quail in abundance.  Since the 1960’s the majority of the North and Eastern US has seen quail populations decline, to almost zero in the Pennsylvania/Delaware region.  For many years, we were no different; our quail were disappearing at a frightening pace.  What changed?  What brought the population back?

Hunting for Quail
Hunting for quail in the Red Hills Region of Southwest Georgia

A little regional history has a lot to do with the story of our beloved quail.  There was no rail here until a year before  the Civil War and even then, we were the end of the line for the railroad. We were the  “western frontier” in the Deep South; and,  because we  were the last stop by rail, it took a long time to get anything needed that wasn’t made locally. Changes to the economic landscape came very slowly.  People farmed, as a matter of course, but for the most part, the area stayed closer to its native natural habitat because of its remoteness .  The Red Hills Region was underpopulated  and Sherman didn’t make it this far – so despite reconstruction after the Civil War in many parts of Georgia, we had nothing to rebuild.  Things stayed pretty quiet and physically the area grew at a slow, steady pace.   After the war, the northern tycoons headed for warmer weather in the winter. The train  line stopped here, and so did they.  Soon, the industrialists  fell in love with the area, abundant in fishing,  wild game and birds;  and, mixed with a warm winter, these snowbirds of the north began to call this region their winter home.

Thomas County 1880
Thomas County in the 1880’s – notice the dense pines and scrub very similar to today’s pine forest. Photo: Thomas County Historical Society and Museum

During the late 1800’s until the early 1900’s quail and quail hunting flourished.  For the industrialists, it was an elegant sport.  Quail wagons pulled by a team of mules are still  a wonderful southern tradition used in the hunt today.    The wagons serve a purpose, they bring the dogs, the spare dogs, their water and refreshments for the hunters.  For those who are spectators, the wagons offer a perfect seat.  You will see them on the private lands and on the quail hunting preserves in southwest Georgia and north Florida. But you don’t need a wagon to hunt quail!  Most people still  enjoy hunting  quail on foot.

As the Red Hills Region became better known, the northern families that moved to the area wanted to preserve the land for hunting . Although they made their fortunes from industry, they worked together to fend off industrial growth to preserve this pristine  hunting environment.   Quail conservation was not on their agenda, but by the early 20th century the quail had all but disappeared – due to over hunting.  This loss of quail became the catalyst focusing the landowners towards  preservation. This little bird was  a main food source in the area,  going back to the native American’s who first inhabited this region, so it was important to keep the  population strong.  The desire to bring back the quail, rallied the landowners together to learn everything they could about conservation. They were open to learning and exploring ways to bring back the quail and protect habitat.   At this time, many of the programs now used were unknown, but  early efforts made a big difference and brought back the quail. This commitment, turned the landowner’s into conservationists, which helped save the quail then, and again, many decades later.

Quail Wagons
The popular quail wagon

All seemed to be going  well for this special bird until the 1960’s when the  quail again, began to disappear, except now it was a national problem.  Every state saw the same decline. What was happening?  Why was the bobwhite quail population declining? According to Quail Forever , www.quailforever.org. “Bobwhite population losses over the last 40 years ranged from 60 to 90 percent across the country. The reason for the quail population plunge was simple – massive losses of habitat suitable for quail. Five major factors lead to the losses of quail habitat; intensified farming and forestry practices, succession of grassland ecosystems to forests, overwhelming presence of exotic grasses like Fescue that choke out wildlife, and urban sprawl.” [i]

The quail population struggled with the our country’s  new landscape.  The  significant expansion of row crop farming, although a boom for farmers, destroyed the protected nesting areas and food sources for the quail.The carpet like grasses of Bahia and Fescue for cattle grazing offered no food or protection for the quail.

Peanut Field
The landscape changed from warm grasses and pines to agriculture. Photo: Georgia Ag .com

Quail have a very short lifespan and about 80% die within the first year naturally; the good news is quail are prolific breeders.  Nature gives the quail lots of chicks to offset their short lifespan and their high mortality. Females  continue re-nesting until late into the season to keep the number of chicks high.  From the start, the chicks have a difficult go, suffering  about  a 30% mortality rate the first few weeks due to cold, or wet climate and predators.   Ground cover and food sources close to the covey are critical to survival. In  the winter coveys join together to stay warm, and face out on guard for predators like skunks, foxes, owls, raccoon, dogs, snakes and domestic cats.  The grasses and insects around the coveys provide warmth, protection and food.  [ii]  This short life span and low mortality rate makes loss of habitat for nesting and protection  an urgent situation.  Quail cannot survive  if they cannot breed safely.  A member of the pheasant family, quail are not strong fliers, mainly because  don’t need fly except to flee a predator.  They search for food, or forage, almost entirely on the ground, eating grains and insects.  They need room to wander as adults and thickets of ground cover at night for warmth and protection.  These little birds need space!

Great Quail Habitat
This hunting plantation has worked hard to meet the needs of the quail habitat in southwestern Georgia

Organizations like the national Quail Forever and our local Tall Timbers http://www.talltimbers.org/ work closely with landowners to help create habitat that promotes quail population.  Critical to the effort is the use of prescribed fires, something that the Native American’s also used. It’s common to see the smoke rising from fields and the woodsy scent of burning brush feels like home to many.   “The Fire Ecology Program promotes the use of prescribed fire (controlled burning) as an essential tool for managing natural ecosystems in the southern U.S.  Many native plant and animals’ species depend on fire to maintain their habitat and have become rare and threatened because of the lack of fire in most places.”[iii]  These fires also reduce the risk of  wildfires.  They keep habitat healthy.

A controlled burn
A prescribed burn helps keep wilfire risk low and keeps grasses flourishing to protect and feed wildlife. Photo: jonesctr.org

Private landowners in north Florida and Southwest Georgia have a real  focused commitment to maintaining quail population, so organizations like  Tall Timbers and  Quail Forever,  continue to be an integral part of  land management. Their research  helps  promote suitable habitat for not only quail, but many other declining species suffering due to changes in habitat created by man  “This is a major reason why quail lands across the southeast often are a bastion for threatened species on private lands.  There are now over a million acres managed for bobwhites on private lands in the Southeast alone.” [iv]

Theron Terhune , Gamebird Program Director at Tall Timbers said the long term trends in quail in the region has seen a steady incline and this year the number of birds looks strong, slightly increasing.   “The landowners are doing a phenomenal job to preserve bobwhite population and maintain a long term population.”  With the local growth of the quail, we need to be careful to not overpopulate, game management prefers to keep the population size around 21/2 – 3 birds per acre.” iii

This plucky little bird, inspired generations of private landowners in our region to  learn and implement strong conservation programs.  Our area is known as the quail capital for good reason! Many regions of the US are not so fortunate, with quail populations now almost gone.   The bobwhite quail flourish because of our history of slow growth, northern industrialists keeping industry away from the region which allowed hunting land to remain intact, and a quest to keep the quail population strong.    Our regional private landowners have always taken the loss of this  challenging bird with great seriousness and because of their efforts, all of us enjoy a thriving quail population.