Oatland Island Wildlife Center invites you to step back in time and ditch the daily grind in favor of a sweeter one.

For more than 30 years, the Harvest Festival and Cane Grinding has been a cherished living history celebration at the center.

Guests of all ages gather to take part in the centuries-old Southern tradition of grinding locally grown sugar cane, then boiling it down for syrup, molasses and sugar.

The schedule is packed with authentic open-hearth cooking, crafts and festivities, carefully curated to provide a true glimpse of harvest time 100-200 years ago.

"Traditionally, communities of farmers would get together at the harvest with a horse-drawn cane mill and stacks of sugar cane, and have a big party," said Annie Quinting, certified science teacher and media liaison for the center.

"The women would do lots of cooking over open fires, the men would be grinding the cane, children would be playing and perhaps helping to grind, and musicians would play throughout the day."

Oatland Island Wildlife Center is owned and operated by the Savannah-Chatham public school system.

Primarily a field trip site for all local students, the center also offers classes at each grade level from pre-K to 12th. They even offer some classes for SCAD students.

All proceeds from admission to the festival, as with any event at the center, fund vital projects there. Some include renovations of the Eastern cougar and black bear habitats.

"Part of the reason we have these events is that people really enjoy them.

"Part of it is because it's our mission to educate, and part of it is because we really need these funds to maintain and improve our animal enclosures and trails," she said.

To understand just how far the center takes authenticity in the name of education, one need only look at the remarkable Heritage Homestead.

The wooded site has two log cabins built in the 1830s, a cane mill, cane boiler and a corn crib. All the better to offer guests cornbread, cane syrup, apple butter and other open-fire cooked foods to draw the imagination back in time via the palate.

The Savannah Folk Music Society and Home Cookin' Cloggers will fill the forest with traditional rhythms while children enjoy hay rides, pony rides, crafts, games and the Native Animal Nature Trail.

Traditional crafts and artisan demonstrations will also be a focal point of the festival. Local blacksmiths will forge out in the open.

The Fiber Guild of the Savannahs will divulge the secrets of the floor loom with weaving and spinning demonstrations, accompanied by craft activities for children.

Raffle tickets will be available to win two shawls made during the center's annual Sheep to Shawl Festival, which happens each March.

"It's how things were done back then," Quinting said. "I like the way this festival shows the simplicity of life 150 years ago, or more. Life was harder in all respects, but it was a lot simpler in some respects, too."

"This allows people to participate in a fun living history program that gives them a hands-on experience with the past - to see how people had to depend on each other to survive."