This past December 2018, heavy rains and winds blew down a large pine tree on top of the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve greenhouse. Constructed only a couple of years ago, the purpose of the greenhouse was to grow native trees and flora and plant them within Forever Wild’s Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. Its untimely destruction was a huge setback for the preserve financially and ecologically.
Fast forward to late February 2019. As a a result of volunteers and donors acting quickly, the Preserve has started erecting a new greenhouse. In less than three short months, the greenhouse is over halfway reconstructed and the funds needed to restore the greenhouse have been secured.
That’s how stewardship of our public lands work.
Public lands belong to us
Whether its building trails, planting trees, picking up litter, raising funds or re-building a greenhouse, Alabama’s approximately 1.5 million acres of public lands – the National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, state wildlife management areas, state and local parks and nature preserves belong to all of us and need our help.
Our first two stories examined the history of public lands in Birmingham and their impact on people’s health. In this, our final installment about Alabama’s Public Lands, we will explore the many ways you can help take care of your public lands, may it be the local park down the street or National Forest miles away.
Let’s get started.
1) Volunteer. Yes, you!
Volunteers are Priceless
There is an old saying in the volunteer world:
“Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”
Local preserves and parks operated by non-profits
Places like Ruffner Mountain, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, Birmingham Botanical Gardens, and Red Mountain Park are publicly owned, but operated by 501 c-3 nonprofit organizations. That means each depends on volunteers and the generous support from the community to survive.
Their volunteer needs may include – trail maintenance, land stewardship, nature educators, board members, donations and even some security.
How do you become a volunteer? Simple. Reach out to them online or picking up the phone. Here are links to their contacts.
State Park volunteers needed
Birmingham is surrounded by some of the Alabama’s loveliest state parks, all within 60-75 miles. Obviously, you have got the largest park in the state, Oak Mountain State Park – but don’t forget Tannehill Historical State Park, Rickwood Caverns State Park, Cheaha State Park and Lake Guntersville State Park.
How do you volunteer for the State Parks? Apply directly to the Alabama State Parks Volunteers In Parks (VIP) program – HERE.
2) Become a Wilderness Ranger
Who doesn’t want to become a Wilderness Ranger?
For years, Wild South has been recruiting, training and deploying volunteer “Wilderness Rangers” into Alabama’s three National Forest wilderness areas – the Sipsey, Cheaha and Dugger Mountain Wildernesses.
These highly trained volunteers help educate visitors and monitor the trails within wilderness areas.
Along with the Ranger program, Wild South organizes Helping Hands Work Days. This program enlists volunteers of all ages to tackle various Forest Service stewardship initiatives such as Chinese privet removal from the Bankhead and Talladega National Forests.
If you love the majesty of Alabama’s National Forests, this is the best way to “give back.”
Contact Wild South’s Outreach Coordinator, Janice Barrett, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 256-974-6166, for details.
3) Adopt a hiking and/or bike trail
The Freshwater Land Trust is in the midst of building the 750 mile Red Rock Trail System throughout Jefferson County. Once completed, our community will have one of the most comprehensive public recreational trail systems in the nation. Since its inception in 2010, over 100 miles has been secured. One of the key ingredients needed to make the Red Rock Trail System work will be a successful “Adopt a Trail” Program. Civic groups, school clubs and even individuals can take on the stewardship of a mile or two.
The Freshwater Land Trust welcomes all comers. Click on this link and learn the adoption process.
If building and maintaining hiking and bike trails are your passion, there are numerous groups you can join.
Want to hike and advocate for a statewide hiking trail system? The Alabama Hiking Trail Society is one of the leading organizations. Want to connect up with the Appalachian Trail from Alabama? Join the Pinhoti Trail Alliance.
For the mountain bikers out there check out Birmingham Urban Mountain Pedalers (BUMP) the group that establishes and maintains bike trails at Oak Mountain State Park and Tannehill Historical State Park.
A few miles east, connect with the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association, guardians of the bike trails on Forever Wild’s Coldwater Mountain, a nationally acclaimed mountain bike course.
4) Support local ‘Friends’ groups
Birmingham has a number of “Friends” groups supporting its parks. This is real grassroots work and perhaps the most rewarding. For example, imagine what Avondale Park would look like today, if it did not have the Friends of Avondale Park championing its cause? Here are just a few of Birmingham’s “friends” park groups.
Need to find or start a local Friend of a Park group? Contact Birmingham Parks and Recreation’s Stanley Robinson at Stanley.Robinson@Birminghamal.gov or 254-2699.
5) Buy a Heritage license
One additional way you can support public lands near Birmingham is the purchase of a Wildlife Heritage License. Created as a way to support non-game wildlife activities on Alabama’s Wildlife Management Areas and state lakes, the Heritage License supports stewardship activities on local WMA’s such as the William Ireland, Sr. – Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area.
6) Purchase a Forever Wild car tag
One of the most successful conservation programs in state history, Forever Wild has protected over 300,000 acres of public land in 27 years. About a decade into the program, the board established a state car tag to raise stewardship funds. A great way to support conservation, $41 out of every $50 donated to purchase a tag helps maintain this stellar program that has expanded state parks, created nature preserves and wildlife management areas.
Here are the directions on how you can purchase a tag.
Get involved and make a difference
Now, more than ever, Alabama public lands need champions. Whether it’s pulling privet, adopting and maintaining a trail or re-building a greenhouse – “This Land is Our Land.”
What did we miss? Let us know how you are involved.