[PHOTOS] Birmingham-Southern’s EcoScapes teach and transform communities. Here’s how

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birmingham southern bsc ecoscape
Birmingham-Southern’s EcoScapes are stunning. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

This year, the Birmingham Southern College‘s EcoScape program, managed by the Southern Environmental Center, celebrates its 25th year of beautifying neighborhoods and teaching students. Learn more about one of our community’s most successful nature education programs that has impacted families and children for over a generation.

The first EcoScape

north birmingham ecoscape
The North Birmingham EcoScape is an oasis in the midst of a city. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

Over the years, a dozen EcoScapes have been built throughout Birmingham. They range from just small, one-to-two acre outdoor gardens in local neighborhoods to section of the 500+ acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.

According to Roald Hazelhoff, Director of BSC’s Southern Environmental Center, the first EcoScape began as an effort to clean up a vacant lot on the BSC campus during the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics. That same summer, BSC hosted Olympic soccer players, providing them a practice field while the games played at nearby Legion Field. Hazelhoff recounted that the unattractive lot could be seen by visiting players. Motivated by the Olympics and the goal of campus improvement. Hazelhoff and BSC worked to transform the lot into the Hugh Kaul EcoScape on campus.

Home to a vast array of Alabama-indigenous plant species, the Hugh Kaul EcoScape is now an oasis on BSC’s campus and is visited by thousands of schoolchildren a year.

“This became an opportunity to have an outdoor location where we could teach about Alabama’s natural wonders. To grab kids’ attention, we wanted the garden to be multi-sensory. To capture all five senses, there’s a lot of color, huge sculptures, fragrant plants, sensory plants and giant chimes.”

Roald Hazelhoff, Director, Southern Environmental Center

A teaching moment

EcoScapes function as outdoor classrooms and pocket parks. Students and families from across the Birmingham metro area come to these urban greenspaces to be immersed in nature and learn about:

  • Geology
  • Native/Non-Native Species
  • Nature and Ecology

Learn more about BSC’s Southern Environmental Center.

Student Involvement

bsc ecoscape
The giant wind chimes bring an auditory aspect to the EcoScape. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

BSC students also volunteer to help care for the EcoScapes. Lora Dunn, a BSC Urban Environmental Studies major, assists Hazelhoff with the EcoScapes program. One of her main roles is to lead groups of elementary and secondary students through the Hugh Kaul EcoScape on BSC’s campus.

“I really like that even though we’re in the middle of a city, we have these little patches of land where children can go to be with nature. They can find native plants that are local to our state and our region. Kids can walk through the EcoScape and have a nice, natural area to enjoy the outdoors.”

Lora Dunn, Urban Environmental Science major, BSC

Community involvement

north birmingham ecoscape
Each EcoScape includes artwork like this flower sculpture at the North Birmingham location. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

The EcoScape program also partners with local organizations to support conservation in the Birmingham area. One of these groups is Jones Valley Teaching Farm. The organization works with Birmingham City Schools to teach students about growing food in their communities.

For example, BSC partners with the Jones Valley Teaching Farm program at Woodlawn High School to educate students about the natural wetland around the school. Another project at Woodlawn High includes bringing in plants propagated at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, BSC’s largest EcoScape. The teaching farm to help students learn about annuals, perinnials and the importance of pollination.

“We use the act of growing food as a way to not only teach children about agriculture, but more importantly, we use it to teach math, science, English and social sciences. We use that as a experiential opportunity to learn about other subjects and enrich what students are already learning in the classroom.

Having native plants at the site supports our educators’ learning objectives. Some of these plants have medicinal qualities and agricultural history specific to our region that we can discuss with students as well.”

Alan Gurganus, K-8 Teaching Farm Manager, Jones Valley Teaching Farm

Find your EcoScape

bsc ecoscape
Each EcoScape features native plants like the ones shown above. Photo via Jacob Blankenship for Bham Now

EcoScapes can be found all around town, although most are now solely maintained by the community. BSC currently works on four EcoScapes, and the rest have returned to community control.

BSC’s current EcoScapes include:

  • Turkey Creek
  • Hugh Kaul (on the Birmingham Southern campus)
  • Sims (in Homewood)
  • North Birmingham

Previous EcoScape projects:

  • Arlington-West End
  • Brown Springs
  • College Hills
  • Princeton Baptist Medical Center, Healing and Sound Gardens
  • Riley-Travellick
  • Samuelson
  • Seven Springs (in Powderly)
  • Tarrant

Learn more about BSC’s EcoScapes:

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