Animal talent from upcoming film to visit Gross Out Camp

Published 9:15 am Thursday, May 16, 2024

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Ginger reveled in her movie stardom in her private trailer while she waited on co-stars, Matthew McConaughey and Kurt Russell, to complete their scenes in the upcoming movie, “The Rivals of Amziah King.” The movie was filmed primarily in Alabama, and thus needed local talent. Ginger, who helps catch the bad guy, will be visiting Gross Out Day Camps in Andalusia and Opp this summer. She is a raccoon who normally stars in live animal shows with the only handlers licensed to present native wildlife in the state.

“We were surprised we saw all the dogs waiting in cars, but Ginger was led to a trailer just like the big stars and she had her own bodyguard,” said Ron Van Herwyn, owner of Kritter Kids Kountry Korner in McKenzie.

Accompanying her is Petunia, a sweet-natured skunk, who tends to break wind when she gets excited — passing gas, not a spray. A fox, honey bear, tortoises, kinkajous, coati and more will thrill and educate Gross Out Campers at the camps at the Conecuh National Forest and Frank Jackson State Park.

Other Gross Out Camp activities include: Fishing with an invasive clam. Dissecting reptiles. Gooping their hands and fellow campers with polymers (slime). They will hike in the woods and hunt for worms, millipedes, bugs, salamanders and splash in the creeks and pond edge looking for crayfish and mussels.

The camp is manned by Mark Hainds, who taught forestry at Lurleen B. Wallace Community College and worked for the Longleaf Alliance. He has a long history of expertise and teaching about the unique ecosystem in Covington County. Assisting Hainds is Ava Bailey, daughter of Dr. Mark Bailey, who wrote the Turtles of Alabama and Lizards and Snakes of Alabama. A taxidermist, and University of Alabama at Birmingham student, Ava was raised in the Conecuh National Forest with all of its fascinating creatures.

“We believe in working with the best instructors in our award-winning camp. Mark and Ava are both highly regarded experts in the ecosystem surrounding Andalusia and Opp. They had a blast last summer sharing their knowledge with Gross Out Campers,” said Verna Gates, Founder and Executive Director of Fresh Air Family, which created and runs the camps.

The camps are held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an option of 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the following locations:

  • June 3-7 at the Conecuh National Forest Open Pond
  • June 10-14 at Frank Jackson State Park
  • June 24-28 at Conecuh National Forest Open Pond
  • July 15-19 at Frank Jackson State Park

The camps are sponsored by the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation, which is providing financial aid for campers whose families can’t afford summer camp. In 2023, 42.18 percent of Gross Out Campers attended using financial aid. A non-profit, it is FAF’s policy to never turn a child away based on their ability to pay.

“We are happy and delighted to be supporting these camps that stir up curiosity in young students. We are interested in programs that open the world of the outdoors. It makes you realize who you are and how big the world is. Nothing accomplishes that better than a pair of dirty hands,” said Phillip Jones, board member of the Solon and Martha Dixon Foundation.

In this award-winning science camp, campers from 1st through 4th grades learn about plants, trees, animals and chemistry. Students in 5th through 7th grade can participate as Counselors-in-Training. The camps are small, with a maximum of 20 children, the perfect class size. The cost is $275 per week and financial aid is available.

Campers return to the summer days of playing with roly polies, building frog forts and learning to skim rocks – all of these activities have been proven to make kids smarter and better adapted.

“We studied how to get the brain engaged and found it was the old way – the way that produced the Greatest Generation – via nature,” said Verna Gates, founder and executive director of Fresh Air Family. “Our goal is to teach children how to think. Science gives you the tools of logic. If children make good decisions through life, they prosper and we all prosper.”

Founded in 2006, Fresh Air Family has served thousands of children and families in camps, weekend adventures and school field trips. Fresh Air Family guarantees tired, dirty children. Register at

About Fresh Air Family
Fresh Air Family is dedicated to environmental and scientific education, outdoor exploration, and an appreciation of the beautiful and biologically diverse state of Alabama. It offers summer and holiday day camps, school field trips and weekend family adventures in the great outdoors.