Forever Wild protects more than 200,000 acres of the most unique outdoor recreation areas in Alabama. On Thursday, February 4, the board of directors for the Forever Wild Land Trust convened in Montgomery for their first quarterly meeting of 2016. These meetings are open to the public, and the board encourages public comments on potential land acquisitions and other issues related to the program.
At this meeting, representatives from organizations, businesses, and communities spoke up to share their own experiences with Forever Wild and advocate for the program and its services. Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation bring in more than $2 billion each year to our state’s economy. Forever Wild lands allow local communities to capitalize on this market, and examples of those economic benefits were highlighted at today’s meeting. Below are short descriptions of these public comments as examples of the benefits of Forever Wild and its economic and social impact on the communities across the state that host Forever Wild properties.
- Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith praised the Rails to Trails program, stating that the local bike trails have improved his town’s quality of life and made Jacksonville a more marketable destination for businesses and residents. Jacksonville is part of the Chief Ladiga Trail, and Mayor Smith credits the trail for attracting visitors that support local businesses.
- Old Cahawba Archaeological Park advocated for the expansion of Dallas County’s Hall Tract to help in their efforts to showcase Alabama’s first capital city for the 2019 state bicentennial celebration. This land will also be used to preserve the hunting traditions that are so important to Dallas County and Alabama’s Black Belt Region.
- Jacksonville State University has calculated that Anniston’s Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail – located on their local Forever Wild property – has an economic impact of between $1.9 and $5.9 million.
- A proposed addition on Shades Creek would double the length of canoe trails on the Cahaba River, and would connect to the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. This would allow visitors to camp in the park and put their kayak or canoe in on the Forever Wild property, providing an opportunity for recreation that is convenient to both Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
- The City of Gadsden has been awarded an Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs grant to construct more hiking and biking trails on their local Forever Wild property.
- Coastal Land Trust is seeking to preserve more land in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta through Forever Wild. The Delta is the foundation of Coastal Alabama’s seafood industry in addition to a recreation destination for both tourists and locals.
- The Alabama Hiking Trail Society offered their continued support to the board, and discussed their success in planning and building hiking trails across the state.
- The Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association advocated that the board move forward on a proposed land acquisition in Elmore County near Lake Martin for which they have a planned network of hiking trails.
The Forever Wild Land Trust preserves land for public use, including hiking, hunting, birding, birding, and horseback riding. Created in 1992, Forever Wild was renewed in 2012 for another 20 years by constitutional amendment that passed with more than 75% of the vote.
Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Gunter Guy did not mince words during his agency’s budget hearing on Thursday, saying that the legislature’s administrative transfers of money from his department are “killing” state parks.
In advance of the 2016 state legislative session, budget committees are hearing testimony from state agencies on their budget needs for the next fiscal year. Sen. Arthur Orr (R-Decatur) made it clear the legislature will not be raising taxes in 2016, and there will be no borrowing from the state’s Education Trust Fund to fill budget gaps.
Commissioner Guy stressed the importance of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, saying that DCNR’s programs have a $3 billion economic impact on the state. That is in addition to the $400-$500 million economic impact related to state parks. Commissioner Guy also noted that hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation are part of our “way of life” here in Alabama. DCNR does not receive money from the state General Fund, and relies on earmarked money, revenue from the state’s cigarette tax, and user fees from permits and park entry costs for its funding.
Despite public outcry in support of our state parks during the 2015 legislative sessions, the legislature continued its practice of requiring administrative transfers of funds from DCNR to the General Fund. Commissioner Guy addressed this, saying that while DCNR is willing to try anything to keep parks open and accessible, it will be impossible for them to do so as long as the legislature takes money the parks have earned and gives it to the General Fund for other uses.
State Parks Director Greg Lien said that there are agreements in place with local communities to keep Bladon Springs, Florala, and Paul Grist State Parks open to the public.
The 2016 legislative session begins on Tuesday, February 2. Send a message to your elected officials now to let them know that we love our state parks and we want them open and accessible!
Editor’s Note: Conservation Alabama member Jen Howard and her daughter Grace Howard-Weinberg (age 9) are avid campers. Based in Birmingham, they’ve spent time as a family in many of Alabama’s beautiful places. We appreciate them sharing one of their recent excursions with us!
[Grace]: My mom, my little sister, and I went on an adventure: an exciting camping trip at Dismals Canyon in November. We would like to tell you about some of the things we saw, learned, and experienced.
[Jen]: Dismals Canyon Conservatory is located on privately owned land in Northwest Alabama, near Phil Campbell. The U.S. Department of the Interior has designated the Conservatory as a National Natural Landmark, through a program that recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources.
[Grace]: What is special about Dismals Canyon is the canyon and its history, and the glow worms (or, Dismalites) that can be seen at night on the canyon walls. Dismals Canyon is the only place in the world where such high numbers of these glow worms can be seen at one time. A biologist took us on a nighttime tour of the canyon, and we saw lots of Dismalites. It was like stars on the face of the rocks. We went all the way down into the canyon with flashlights. They were all over the faces of the rocks, buried in the moss, and on the floor. I will say that we have been there before, and you can see more Dismalites in the late spring and summer than in November, but it was still super cool.
[Jen]: The canyon is just as interesting in the daytime. It contains a 1.5 mile trail, following a stream. Day hikers can see beautiful moss-covered cliff faces, waterfalls, areas where Native Americans once lived, and other unusual natural features. A trail map, providing some background information about points of interest along the way, is available at the Country Store.
[Grace]: My favorite part was the hike we went on through the canyon. The Kitchen site was the area that Native Americans used for cooking and tribal rituals. The Phantom Falls was super cool because you hear a waterfall behind you but it’s not there. (The rock picks up an echo from an actual waterfall downstream.) We ate lunch at the Secret Falls. It is a beautiful waterfall that you get to by stepping on rocks across the stream. Close to that is the Dance Hall. My sister and I liked to dance on it. (It was a really tall, big, flat rock that you could dance on, and the Native Americans used it for secret rituals.)
[Jen]: Our family chose to stay at the Sleeping Water campsite, which is one of eight primitive campsites in the Conservatory. A bathhouse with restroom facilities is available for campers. Campsites do not have running water, so it is necessary to bring potable water or filter water from a nearby stream. Although the parking area is located a short hike from each campsite, the upside is that the campsites are extremely private. We took advantage of the concierge service, which involves assistance in carrying gear to and from the campsite upon arrival and departure, and assistance in setting up. That was a great feature for a mom traveling with two small children! Another helpful resource was the Country Store near the entrance to the canyon, where firewood and other supplies are available, and the people are extremely nice.
[Grace]: We got the best campsite ever! My favorite part about the campsite was that it had a waterfall and a mini cave. There was a cool little nature path from the road leading to our campsite. The path had a really cool bridge that went over a creek that my sister and I had fun playing on.
One of the reasons I always love camping trips is the s’mores. I absolutely adore s’mores. We tried to make an oven out of a box and aluminum foil but it caught on fire. Just a little experiment though.
I learned a lot and had tons of fun on this camping trip and if you decide to go to Dismals Canyon you will, too. Their website is http://www.dismalscanyon.com.