Last week, before 2021 came to an end, the state of Alabama’s Forever Wild Program acquired 1644-acres, expanding Oak Mountain State Park. The land was purchased from EBSCO Industries, one of the state’s largest family owned companies.
To put the size of the expansion into perspective, Alabama’s largest and most popular state park grew nearly twice the size of New York City’s Central Park.
How it Happened
In 2019, Dell S. Brooke and Dixon Brooke, Jr. submitted a nomination to the Forever Wild Program. They requested the state to consider the acquisition of a 1,644-acre tract of land owned by EBSCO, known as the Belcher Tract, for conservation consideration. The Belcher Tract sits adjacent to Oak Mountain State Park; from the existing boundary to Highway 280 near the Greystone and Chelsea communities.
“This property was originally purchased with the intent to be developed, and many development opportunities exist today,” said Dell Brooke, EBSCO Industries board member and daughter of Elton B. Stephens, founder of EBSCO Industries. “But, the preservation of this land will create more sustainable value for our environment, our surrounding communities, and our citizens for generations to come.”
Following years of conversation and cooperation, as reported by The Bama Buzz, on August 5th, 2021, the Forever Wild Land Trust Board unanimously voted to acquire the Belcher Tract.
The conservation benefits of the expansion are many. They include:
- Preserves greenspace in one of our state’s most rapidly growing communities
- Expands Oak Mountain State Park to over 11,000 acres and safeguards the expansive and pristine views from King’s Chair overlook, one of Alabama’s most popular hiking trails
- Protects and preserves rare mountain longleaf pine habitat forestland
Numerous organizations, including The Nature Conservancy in Alabama (TNC), Freshwater Land Trust and local community groups supported the expansion.
“This addition to Oak Mountain State Park contains some last remnants of the mountain longleaf pine ecosystem in the Birmingham metro area,” explained Mitch Reid, Director of The Nature Conservancy in Alabama. “EBSCO’s decision to put this land into conservation for the people of Alabama is going to help protect this unique ecosystem. It’s also a great opportunity for the state to expand one of the most popular Alabama state parks. This is really a win-win for both people and nature.”
In the coming months and years, groups such as the Forestry Commission, State Parks and TNC will map out ways to preserve and restore the rare longleaf pine forests.
“We are pleased to have a small part in the restoration of this ecosystem through the preservation of the Belcher Tract,” said Dixon Brooke, Jr, EBSCO Industries board member and former President and CEO of EBSCO Industries. “We are very appreciative of The Nature Conservancy who partnered with EBSCO Industries to turn ideas and conversations into action and conservation.”
Thanks and Appreciation
In a recent interview with Bham Now, Alabama’s Commissioner of Conservation Chris Blankenship summed up the importance of the state park expansion and his deep appreciation toward all involved.
“We are very excited to get this property closed. This is a great addition to Oak Mountain State Park. It is a beautiful piece of property in fast growing Shelby County. I appreciate the dedication of the Forever Wild Land Trust and the work of the Board members to approve this and fund this purchase. I think it’s going to be something that we can all look back on as a great moment in the Forever program. I also very much appreciate the EBSCO family selling this piece of property to Forever Wild so that it can be preserved in perpetuity. EBSCO continues to be a great public steward.”
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