A “Walk the Woods” at the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. Dig in and take responsibility.

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One of my favorite inspirational nature quotes is by a poet named Gary Snyder who once said:

“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”

Twenty-two years ago, residents from Pinson and Jefferson County did just that when they fought a proposal to build a jail for 900 prisoners on the land which is now the 466 acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.

Thank goodness they won.

Rarest Fish on Planet Earth

Vermilion darter
Vermilion darters found on a new section at Turkey Creek – photo courtesy of Freshwater Land Trust

There were many reasons back then why the jail was defeated. Fierce and overwhelming opposition by the local community made a huge difference. Preservation of Turkey Creek Falls and its recreational values was another.  

But when it came down to Forever Wild, the state land trust purchasing the property, the presence of the Vermilion Darter sealed the deal. I should know. I served on the Forever Wild Board of Trustees at the time.

That tiny fish, which is about the size of your index finger, has only been found in the cool rushing waters of Turkey Creek.  It is one of the rarest fish on planet earth. 

A Walk in the Woods with Friends of Turkey Creek Anne Mathews

Trail at the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Today, Turkey Creek is a beautiful preserve, that before the COVID-19 pandemic welcomed nearly 100,000 visitors a year, according to the Southern Environmental Center

On my Turkey Creek walk, I would soon discover, you need to do more than “find a place” and “dig in.”  Perhaps, Snyder’s words – “take responsibility from there”  – are even more important.

Anne Mathews, longtime volunteer and board member of the Friends of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve joined me on the walk. She began our stroll in the woods with a snarky comment.

Hopping on the trail, she smiled and said:

“My husband used to come out here in high school and get rowdy, he was one of those boys.”

Photo via Beth Cunningham for Bham Now

I had to chuckle. You see, long before Turkey Creek became a nature preserve, it was a  notorious hangout, especially by the falls where there might be some target practice directed at the cans and bottles of beer rowdy boys had consumed. I still remember my first visit more than a decade ago to the Falls, seeing shards of glass everywhere. Remnants from those days.   

Anne told me she came out to Turkey Creek, after it had been made a Forever Wild preserve, to participate in a backyard bird count.

“I just fell in love with it.  It was just so beautiful. I said to myself, when I retire, I’m going to devote myself to Turkey Creek.”

Anne did retire from XEROX and for seven and a half years she has kept her promise.

While we walked on the trail, Anne talked about the effort it took to blaze and maintain the path we were hiking. Also a member of the Vulcan Trail Association, she led me like a tour guide, telling stories while we walked.

“See those little holes, craters just off the trail, near the stream? Moonshiners would put their boilers down in there,” she described.”

Photo via Beth Cunningham for Bham Now

When we wrapped up our visit, Anne also told me how she is a part of Alabama Water Watch. Every month, for two years, she tests near Thompson’s meadow the creek’s pH, hardness and alkalinity, turbidity and dissolved oxygen. In the summer she tests the bacteria levels.

Even though we did not take a lengthy hike that afternoon  (it was 95 degrees in the middle of the day), I learned from Anne that Turkey Creek is more than a swimming hole that was a haven for rowdy boys. She opened my eyes to its trails, the creek and falls and the history of the people who played there. 

Volunteering for Turkey Creek

Photo via Beth Cunningham for Bham Now

Moreover, I saw first hand a community taking responsibility for this special place. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Friends of Turkey Creek have stepped up to help make sure new health and safety rules are being enforced. 

Enforcement of these rules are not easy.  Presently, visitors must park in the new gravel parking lot, and can only, hike, bike and fish in the preserve. 

Unfortunately, they can’t allow swimming right now, which is the preserve’s biggest draw, especially in the summer.

Thank Them

Birmingham Alabama
Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now.

The next time you visit Forever Wild’s Turkey Creek Nature Preserve in Pinson, thank one of the many volunteers monitoring the gate or Charles Yeager, the preserve’s beloved caretaker. 

Don’t forget, along with the Friends group, many people make this place special.  Birmingham-Southern College’s Southern Environmental Center educates 3000 kids a year at the preserve. The Freshwater Land Trust which was  instrumental in saving Turkey Creek remains involved, as well as the city of Pinson. And of course the land is publicly owned through Forever Wild, which means every Alabamian is responsible for it.

It is hard to imagine Turkey Creek was slated for a prison. See what you can do when you find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there?

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Pat Byington
Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.
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