Turkey Creek Nature Preserve

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Turkey Creek Falls, photographed March 29, 2008 by Alby Headrick

Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is a 466-acre preserve of mixed pine and hardwood forest along Turkey Creek located off Pinson Valley Parkway at 3906 Turkey Creek Road in Pinson. It is home to three endangered species of fish, the rush darter, the vermilion darter, and the watercress darter, plus a population of the endangered flattened musk turtle. The rush and vermilion darters are unique to Turkey Creek. The property was acquired by Alabama's Forever Wild Land Trust and is co-owned by the Jefferson County Commission. Management of the park is a cooperative effort of the Alabama Public Lands Division, the Fresh Water Land Trust and the Society to Advance the Resources at Turkey Creek (START), while the City of Pinson has agreed to provide garbage removal. Charles Yeager is the current land manager, having succeeded Taylor Steele in 2012.

History

The falls on Turkey Creek have been used for recreation and picnicking since the 1870s. Prior to that, David Hanby lived and operated a mill on part of the property.

Over the years falls area was used both for recreation and as a convenient illegal dump site. In the Fall of 1989 Birmingham-Southern College's Roald Hazelhoff brought a group of about 80 students clean up the site. They loaded around 8 to 11 tons of debris into heavy-duty trucks donated by Jefferson County.

In 1998, Jefferson County proposed building a prison at the site, causing the people of Pinson to form the Society To Advance the Resources at Turkey Creek (START). The group nominated the site for the state's Forever Wild Program, but was turned down.

The following year, the county canceled the prison plans. County Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins formed a Turkey Creek Watershed Development Committee, which recommended the site become a 630-acre nature preserve. The committee nominated the site to Forever Wild again in 2000, but with multiple people owning the land wanted for the preserve, the plans stalled.

In 2001, the committee met with the Freshwater Land Trust for guidance. The Land Trust offered to help obtain the land and partners for the project. They first got John Akin and Martha Akin Walston to donate 21 undisturbed acres along the creek that had been in the family for over a century. They wanted the property preserved in honor of their grandfather, R. DuPont Thompson, the original landowner. The family also provided a conservation easement on an additional three acres, which includes a home built in the beginning of the 20th century. The Trust met with Patrick O'Sullivan in 2002. By offering a package of tax benefits, the Land Trust convinced him to sell 141 acres and donate 40 additional acres around the creek, including the falls area.

In 2003, the Land Trust received an $853,000 grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which it used to secure another 47 acres from the Thomas family, who also wished to see the area preserved as part of their heritage. This land included the vermilion darters' spawning habitat. The Land Trust and County Commission then packaged 466 acres of acquired land and again nominated it to Forever Wild. Valued at $4.7 million, charitable partners allowed the sale of the land for $2 million. The Land Trust retained the 24 acres donated by the Akin and Walston families for the creation of an interpretive center.

In 2008, Hazelhoff's Southern Environmental Center coordinated the work of students and other volunteers to create an EcoScape, a garden of native plants, on a former parking lot near the entrance above the falls. The project was designed to reduce and filter runoff into the stream. The improved park opened officially on May 9, 2009.

Since its opening, the preserve has added the first 2.13 miles of an extensive system of nature trails, one of which is paved and accessible to wheelchairs. The preserve was added to the National Recreational Trails system in June 2013. The Friends of Turkey Creek, at the suggestion of students from Pinson Elementary School, made "Dan the Darter" the preserve's official mascot.

In 2014, it was announced that the preserve was awarded over $60,000 by the Recreational Trails Grant Program administered by the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. The grant will allow the Southern Environmental Center to create an 11-mile mountain biking trail as well as expand an existing multi-purpose trail.

Watercress darter (Etheostoma nuchale)
Habitats Glenn Springs · Nabors Branch · Roebuck Spring · Tapawingo Springs · Thomas Spring · Turkey Creek
Preserves Seven Springs Ecoscape · Turkey Creek Nature Preserve · Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge
People R. D. Caldwell (co-discoverer) · Larry Davenport · Mike Howell (co-discoverer) · Heron Johnson

References

  • "The Anatomy of a Deal" (December 4, 2007) Fresh Water Land Trust - accessed April 15, 2009
  • Jaffe, Dana (February 25, 2009) "Pinson trash bin to enhance Turkey Creek preserve cleanliness." The Birmingham News
  • Spencer, Thomas (November 3, 2008) "Turkey Creek Falls gets second chance." The Birmingham News
  • Keith, Todd (May 12, 2009) "Turkey Creek Nature Preserve Grand Opening." The Birmingham News
  • Spencer, Thomas (December 7, 2010) "Habitat for endangered vermilion darter expanded in Jefferson County's Turkey Creek." The Birmingham News
  • LLoyd, Gary (June 18, 2013) "'Momentum' building at Turkey Creek this summer." Trussville Tribune
  • Poe, Kelly (October 18, 2014) "Turkey Creek Nature Preserve to open 11-mile mountain biking trail, expand hiking trail." The Birmingham News
  • Prickett, Sam (July 24, 2018) "With new fundraiser, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve hopes to avoid a bleak future." Jefferson County Journal

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