Wanted: Friends of nature in Alabama.
One of my favorite inspirational quotes about conservation comes from the poet and ecologist Gary Snyder.
“Find your place on the planet. Dig in, and take responsibility from there.”
Now more than ever, Alabama’s trails, natural areas, parks, preserves, flora and critters need a champion; someone to take charge and become a friend of nature.
In our first installment, we provided a template on organizing litter cleanups, becoming a water watcher and planting trees. In this, the,second story in our series, we examine ways we can help save the Earth right here in Alabama by:
- Building and maintaining trails.
- Adopting a park or preserve
- Growing native plants.
Join us on the journey.
Alabama Trails—a Gateway
Joe Cuhaj is a trailblazer.
Twenty years ago, he wrote Hiking Alabama, a book that became one of our state’s most popular trail guides. And he didn’t stop there. Over the years, Cuhaj made hiking fun and magical, releasing additional publications ranging from best dog hikes in Alabama to “hiking waterfalls.” Cuhaj even released a book featuring paddling trails on our state’s “blueways.”
“A lot of people walk a trail and they think, oh, it’s always been there,” Cuhaj explained to me in a recent interview. “They don’t realize how much work goes into it and all the volunteers that are involved building that trail.”
Cuhaj sees building and maintaining trails as a gateway for people interested in discovering nature here in the Yellowhammer State.
“Hiking trails take you to a lot of places, especially here in Alabama, that you just normally can’t see,” he said. “Alabama is one of the most biologically diverse areas in the country. In many cases, trails are the only way you can go see it.”
If you are looking for groups that advocate, build and maintain trails in Alabama, we are blessed with a number of outstanding organizations. Here are a few of the most prominent groups;
- Alabama Hiking Trail Society
- Pinhoti Trail Alliance
- Wild Alabama
- Vulcan Trail Association
- Freshwater Land Trust
Adopt a Park
It’s hard to believe that Red Mountain Park opened to the public a little less than 10 years ago.
A sprawling 1500+ acre green oasis, the park was once the site of the Wenonah and Ishkooda ore mines. According to Bhamwiki, the mines operated for 108 years, pulling an estimated 305 million tons of iron ore out of the ground. After three decades of abandonment, the Freshwater Land Trust—along with numerous civic leaders—led the effort to acquire and develop the former mine into a brand-new park.
If you care about green space and preserving our local natural wonders, one way to protect it is by adopting a park via membership or contribution.
“We started our membership program in 2017,” said T.C. McLemore, Red Mountain Park’s Executive Director. “It was a way to start capturing the generosity of everyday park users who were giving anonymously at the entrances.”
In just a couple of years, Red Mountain Park has enlisted more than 600 members.
It has made a big difference.
“We are free,” added McLemore. “We don’t charge admission. So a way to offset the cost of operations has been membership. Membership makes sure that the Red Mountain Park is well maintained and remains free for everyone to enjoy.”
Membership does have benefits. Red Mountain Park members, for example, enjoy special hikes and volunteer days. Becoming a member is also a great way to follow the organization and learn how you can chip in to help when needed.
There is no shortage of local parks and preserves you can adopt. And most are asking you to support them for the price of a dinner out at a moderately priced restaurant.
Here is a list of organizations and “friends” groups;
- Friends of Turkey Creek Nature Preserve
- Ruffner Mountain
- Railroad Park
- Land Trust of North Alabama
- Weeks Bay Foundation
- Alabama Coastal Foundation
One more tip.
If you want to go bigger—support the 23 State Parks via the Alabama State Parks Foundation.
Supporting Butterflies, Birds and Bees through Native Plants
One of the best ways to become a friend of nature is to simply grow native plants in your yard or even on your front porch. Native plants were the plants that were resident here before people came along and changed things. We brought fast-growers (kudzu, privet and boston ivy to name a few) from all around the world. Some of these foreign plants are so aggressive that they snuff out the natives and have become known as invasive. Many commercial nurseries sell invasives because they are so easy to grow and propagate.
“To me, you should think of native plants the same way that you think about feeding your family,” said Gail Snyder, group lead for the Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens’ Natives Volunteer Growing Group. “Native plants are like the nutrients part of a balanced diet. We all need protein. We all need healthy fats. We need healthy carbs, and so on. Natives provide the right nutrients for all life forms.”
Native plants support wildlife, bees, birds and butterflies. Adding them to our gardens, parks, schools, churches and neighborhoods gives the critters a lifeline.
In Birmingham, the Noah’s Ark of native plants can be found at the BBG’s Kaul Wildflower Garden. At last count, this garden is growing and propagating 900 of the more than 3000 species of native plants found in Alabama.
If you are interested in growing native plants, look out for plant sales happening early this Fall at Ruffner Mountain and Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.
The Friends of Birmingham Botanical Gardens is hosting their Fall plant sale Saturday, September 11. They even offer a certificate in native plant studies if you’re interested in learning more. Find out on their website.
“Native plants are beautiful —they’re entertaining,” exclaimed Snyder.
A couple of Snyder’s recommendations are the Common Golden Alexander, which is the host plant for the black swallowtail butterfly or the beautiful Cardinal Flower. If you are seeking native plants she encourages prospective buyers to quiz the Birmingham Botanical Gardens, Ruffner and Turkey Creek volunteers about what works in their gardens.
Need a list of native plant advocates in Alabama? Connect with the following groups for resources:
- Birmingham Botanical Gardens
- Huntsville Botanical Gardens
- Alabama Audubon
- Alabama Wildflower Society – Blanche Dean Chapter
- Nature Conservancy in Alabama
We’ll finish our three-part series on saving the Earth in Alabama by examining ways to recycle, build homes for wildlife plus how to become a wilderness ranger.