Turkey Creek Alabama Nature Preserve New Lodge Expands Education Options

Turkey Creek in northern Jefferson County is home to not only one, but three endangered fish species, one of which cannot be found anywhere else on the planet.

Meanwhile, the nature reserve just north of Birmingham that bears the same name attracts growing crowds who come to enjoy the crystal-clear waters of the cove, the reserve’s hiking and biking trails, and the popular Hole of swim that remains refreshing even on the hottest summer days.

New lodge in Turkey Creek from the Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Protecting the delicate and important habitat of the reserve while welcoming those who wish to enjoy its natural beauty is a delicate balance. The same is true of finding ways to cover the ongoing costs of maintaining the reserve.

A new class lodge under construction in the 466-acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve will hopefully provide a source of income to support the reserve while providing environmentally friendly equipment to further the educational mission of the reserve. . A recent grant under the public-private Five Star program will support the project in a way that protects the reserve – and the rare creatures that inhabit it.

“The new lodge – we call it an Alabama forestry classroom,” said Roald Hazelhoff, director of the nonprofit Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College, which has managed Turkey Creek Nature Reserve for over. of a decade.

“The pavilion will allow us to educate more people about why this place is so special – and therefore deserves continued protection and conservation,” said Hazelhoff. “And the Five Star grant will help us ensure that the lodge not only improves the experience for people who come here, but that the project does not negatively affect what we are trying to protect.”

The reserve, near Pinson, opened in 2009 following a community effort to protect the area. For decades, the stream and its natural waterfall were a party spot for locals. Later, Jefferson County considered building a new jail at the site, which sparked community protests and efforts to save the natural area. Local activists have proposed that the land be purchased by the state’s Forever Wild Land Trust, as other organizations, including the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust and the Southern Environmental Center, have joined in the effort. .

The reserve protects one of the most biologically diverse habitats in the region, with the stream home to three tiny federally threatened fish species: the vermilion darter, watercress darter and rush darter. The Vermilion Darter is only found in Turkey Creek.

The Vermilion Darter has only been found in Turkey Creek in Jefferson County. (Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources)

In addition, the reserve is home to a protected species of turtle; two protected bat species; and rare echinacea.

Alabama Power and its parent company, Southern Company, are partners in the Five Star program, along with the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Five Star Grants support projects that help protect and enhance the habitats of urban and coastal waterways, and the animals and plants that depend on them.

Construction of the multifunctional pavilion is underway, which will accommodate up to 120 people. The project required clearing approximately 2 acres on the site, which will include an entrance and parking for people with disabilities. The Five Star grant will offset the environmental impacts of the project by helping to finance the planting of native trees and shrubs, the installation of a rainwater harvesting system and the creation of a “Return of the Natives” trail. 0.3 mile. The trail will feature native plants and interpretive signs, and connect the pavilion to an existing outdoor amphitheater on the shores of Turkey Creek.

The Southern Environmental Center had previously partnered with Five Star in the nature reserve to install a permeable parking lot and biological ditch at the entrance to Turkey Creek Falls, located next to the popular swimming hole. The permeable parking lot and biological ditch help slow down and filter rainwater from the road and parking lot before it reaches the creek. The previous Five Star grant also paid for the removal of about 9 acres of invasive plants – as part of a project to improve native bat habitat.

In addition to being able to accommodate up to 120 students for educational programs, the new pavilion will be an event space. The proceeds from rentals will strengthen the finances of the nature reserve.

As part of the pavilion project, another biological ditch – essentially a natural area designed to retain and filter rainwater – will be built, while the new rainwater harvesting system will collect runoff from the roof of the flag in a 1,400 gallon tank. The collected water will be reused at the pavilion and will supply a new drip irrigation system for native plants.

The pavilion project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

Like many outdoor parks and green spaces, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve saw an increase in visitor numbers at the start of the pandemic, forcing new restrictions on the site. As the cooler fall weather sets in, security measures remain in place for visitors. And while it’s free to visit the reserve, donations to the Southern Environmental Center are encouraged to help pay for maintenance, security, and other expenses.

To learn more about Turkey Creek Nature Reserve and to support its continued operation, visit https://turkeycreeknp.com/.

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