Located just 15 miles outside the Birmingham city limits, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson is widely regarded as the crown jewel of Alabama’s Forever Wild program.
Since 2008, the Southern Environmental Center (SEC) at Birmingham-Southern College has managed this popular nature preserve, and has initiated a number of hands on educational programs for area middle and high school students.
Despite having to rely on just one full time staff member and the occasional volunteer, SEC was able to provide freshwater ecology, natural history, and related STEM based programs to some 5000 schoolchildren at TCNP in 2017.
Unfortunately, an equal number of students had to be turned away, due to inadequate staff, inclement weather protection, bathroom and parking facilities. Lack of parking is also a problem for the thousands of mountain bike enthusiasts that annually use TCNP’s new 3.2 mile trail.
After going through a strategic assessment process, Southern Environmental Center initiated a $500,000 Growing Impact capital campaign in 2017 to add educational instructors, construct a multi purpose, 150 seat outdoor classroom pavilion @ Turkey Creek, and provide adjacent parking for 50 cars.
Recently, we met with Roald Hazelhoff, founding director of the Southern Environmental Center, to discuss the campaign details .
Proposed TCNP Classroom Pavilion
The primary focus of the Growing Impact Campaign is the development and construction of a 2820 square foot classroom pavillion and adjacent pervious parking site that will have electricity, restroom and changing areas and a capacity to handle up to 150 people at one time. The proposed facility will accommodate larger school groups, overnight stays for scout groups, and serve as a site for local festivals and rustic weddings.
“The new facility will be designed by ArchitectureWorks, the same firm that built Auburn’s Forestry Education Center & the Jones Valley Teaching Farm,” added Hazelhoff.
Keeping the nature preserve free to the public
Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is one of Forever Wild’s most popular destinations. In 2017, about 130,000 people visited Turkey Creek, more than double the amount that came through its gates in 2012.
“We’ve got to come up with additional funding sources in order to maintain the preserve, & keep it open to the public. That’s why we need facilities that can be used for special events, small weddings, corporate meetings,etc., so we can offset staffing & maintenance costs, and continue to offer free admission to the preserve,” said Hazelhoff.
Protecting Turkey Creek’s biodiversity
Since the early 1900s Turkey Creek has been recognized for its recreational values and biodiversity. For years it was threatened by illegal garbage dumps and in the 90s a proposal to place a jail on the property. The purchase of the land by Forever Wild and subsequent environmental education programs by the Southern Environmental Center has led to a renaissance in the region.
The Preserve contains some of the most biologically diverse habitats in this region of Alabama. The waters of Turkey Creek are home to three endangered species of fish: the Vermilion Darter, the Watercress Darter, and the Rush Darter. The Vermilion Darter occurs only in Turkey Creek and nowhere else in the world.
Support the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
Now, more than ever, the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve needs our help. Through the Southern Environmental Center’s Growing Impact campaign YOU can help double the number of students being served, upgrade the facilities, keep the preserve free to the public and protect Turkey Creek’s biodiversity.
Donate to the campaign – HERE.
Having founded the Southern Environmental Center 30 years ago in 1988, Roald Hazelhoff personally reflected why the Growing Impact campaign for the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is so important. Give now!
“Alabama really was a turning point in my life. I wasn’t even an environmentalist before I came here. But this state and Turkey Creek has such incredible biodiversity and natural beauty, juxtaposed with such poor environmental stewardship that you are really left with a stark choice. Love it or leave it.
And if you are going to love it then you need to do something about it.”