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David Rainer: Perseverance makes Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve a reality

St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon suggested an addition to the Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve on the outskirts of Springville, which opened to the public last weekend. Batemon wants to erect a sign that says “Perseverance” to honor Doug Morrison, one of the primary people who fought to protect the biologically diverse property.

Morrison, Preserve Manager for the City of Springville, obviously adhered to Churchill’s admonition to “never give up.” He celebrated the long, tedious journey that resulted in the opening of the 422-acre tract that will provide public outdoor recreation, something in short supply in the area.

The tract was nominated in 2009 for purchase by the Forever Wild Land Trust, which is administered by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ State Lands Division. Easement obstacles had to be resolved, but Morrison and his passionate compatriots kept nominating the tract until Forever Wild purchased the initial 382 acres in 2018 and added 40 acres the following year.

Nature Preserve. Manager Doug Morrison (Billy Pope/ADCNR)

Since the purchase was completed, a total of 7.3 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding have been built through a partnership among State Lands, the City of Springville and St. Clair County.

“On behalf of my boss, Governor Kay Ivey, I am tickled to be here,” said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR Commissioner and Chairman of the Forever Wild Land Trust Board of Trustees. “I was in Guntersville earlier to dedicate a big eagle statue and came down here to cut a ribbon. When you can cut ribbons in two parts of the state, that’s a pretty good day. I can’t believe the crowd, which goes to show what this means to the community.

“Of all the things I do as Commissioner, serving on the Forever Wild Board is one of the things I enjoy the most. Forever Wild has the opportunity to purchase property and set it aside for the people forever. This is an area that will provide trails and outdoor recreation for this community from now on. State Lands Director Patti McCurdy and Assistant Director Doug Deaton and all of the other State Lands staff do a great job of managing Forever Wild properties all over the state. This goes to show how important this is to people around the state.”

Commissioner Blankenship said when he was appointed in 2017, one of the first actions he took was to vote yes on the purchase of the Big Canoe Creek tract.

“Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve is a very special place that showcases Alabama’s incredible natural diversity,” he said. “We are blessed with all these species like the mussels and darters. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been Commissioner about how important these species are to our ecosystem here in Alabama.”

Before an overflow crowd, Commissioner Blankenship applauded the efforts of the City of Springville and St. Clair County to realize how valuable these natural resources are to the health and well-being of the area.

“Everybody is trying to do economic development, to bring companies in, to bring families in to grow their communities,” he said. “It is rare to have a community like this that saw the potential for a place like this and set it aside for the people. As their community grows, they will have a place like this to provide the quality of life and provide a reason for people to move to this part of the state. Providing outdoor recreation opportunities like this in a community is a great form of economic development.”

Morrison, who was hired as Preserve Manager in 2022, said the Preserve has been a labor of love with many long hours and tremendous support from volunteers, local leaders, businesses and other partners.

“This journey began a long, long time ago,” Morrison said. “We formed Friends of Big Canoe Creek in 2008. I want to talk about the love of nature, community, networking, perseverance, champions, partners, destiny and gratitude. There was a group of citizens who lived on or nearby Big Canoe Creek. We cared about the creek. We wanted to learn more about our biodiversity. We (Alabama) are number four in the nation in biodiversity, but we’re number one in aquatic species. The thing is this community cares, and they stepped up.

“I’ve been at it for almost 15 years. To see all these people, it makes my heart so happy. People want to get out in nature. There’s nothing like this in St. Clair County. This is going to be a big deal for this county. If, along the way, we can get our message out about our biodiversity and teach our kids about the species that are here, I think that’s one of the biggest things we can do for this area.”

Big Canoe Creek is home to the Canoe Creek clubshell mussel, an endangered species, as well as a wide variety of other aquatic species, including spotted bass and numerous species of darters. The Big Canoe Creek Watershed is home to more than 50 fish species, including the threatened trispot darter. The Preserve has a mix of upland hardwoods and pine forests that are prime habitat for a variety of wildlife species typically found in the state.

Morrison said the Preserve land was originally scheduled for development, but the economic downturn in 2008 gave the Friends group the opportunity to nominate the land for purchase by Forever Wild.

Morrison thanked the partners that helped make the opening of Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve a reality, including ADCNR and its State Lands Division, Forever Wild Land Trust, City of Springville, St. Clair County Commission, Big Canoe Creek Preserve Partners, The Friends of Big Canoe Creek, Freshwater Land Trust, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, EBSCO, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Norris Paving, Schoel Engineering, Homestead Hollow, United Way of Central Alabama and KEBCO.

Morrison said gratitude is a word that keeps coming to mind. He said he is grateful for a program like Forever Wild, which can acquire land like the Preserve that is dedicated to public use. He added that Forever Wild had built almost 3½ miles of trails in the Preserve.

Springville Mayor Dave Thomas highlighted the educational opportunities the Preserve will provide for the community and surrounding areas.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to protect our ecosystem here in Springville along Big Canoe Creek,” Mayor Thomas said. “To me, more important, is the conservation education – to educate the students, and their parents – on what it means to engage in nature conservation and share that knowledge and enthusiasm with the next generation. Quite frankly, we’re just getting started. We didn’t know what kind of crowd to expect. If this is any indication on a Friday afternoon, I’m excited about the prospects of what the weekends will hold. This will be impactful, not for just Springville but the whole county and area. This is a really big deal.”

The Preserve will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through February and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. March through October.

Chairman Batemon, a retired ADCNR conservation enforcement officer who patrolled St. Clair County, was a key figure in the development of the Preserve, which he said is crucial to the economic and community development of St. Clair County.

“This is the ground level of economic development,” Chairman Batemon said. “This is what we need, and we need more of it. Thank you, Doug, for your perseverance.”

In addition to the current trails and wildlife viewing opportunities, plans for the Preserve include the construction of pavilions to host outdoor education events. Preserve facilities include pet waste stations, benches, trash cans and picnic tables in both the upper and lower parking areas and two portable restrooms in the upper parking area.

The Preserve is approximately 30 miles northeast of Birmingham at 1700 Murphrees Valley Road in Springville.

For more information about Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve including a trail map, visit Springville Parks and Recreation online at http://springvilleparksandrec.com/WildPreserve.aspx.

 

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