I love this place. It’s off the beaten path and so pristine it hurts. Now the place I’m talking about is the Kathy Stiles Freeland, Bibb County Glades Preserve. Every time I visit, I seem to discover something different and that sense of discovery is one that seems to permeate every crevice of the preserve. It is a sense of discovery that was pioneered by a botanist named Jim Allison of Georgia. And because of his discoveries, groups like the Nature Conservancy of Alabama have set aside this land for future generations to enjoy. And even now groups in our state are in peril of being lost without future funding and its up to us to keep that from happening.
But I digress, lets get back to the Glades, I first discovered this area when a friend of mine took me down there to do some fly fishing. I was instantly amazed by the beauty of the area and the further up stream we paddled and fished, the more amazing the area became. For years after that I often wondered what others thought when they first saw the area. I resolved then to write an article about the area to share it with others. I knew that to be able to just scratch the surface of the area would take a couple of days to get the required pictures. So I called Keith Tassin of the Nature Conservancy, and asked for permission to camp the area over the weekend. He gave the go ahead and then I asked him just how they had come across the land and had come to own it.
It was then that he told me about Jim Allison. Jim is, as I said, a botanist from Georgia. And sometime in August of 1989 he was sent down to Bibb County by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in search of a particular plant that was being considered for protection. Well, he found it while canoeing the river and during subsequent trips to the area, he discovered eight new species of plants that had been previously unknown here in the state.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long for groups like the Nature Conservancy to take note of the area and to understand its significance. They knew that in order to protect the area they would need to acquire the land and set it aside for future generations. So they set out buying the land from coal and logging companies. And with that purchase they began the reclamation process. They began removing the stands of Loblolly Pines planted by the logging companies and replaced them with the native Long Leaf Pines instead. They even began using control burns to give back to the soil and clear out the undergrowth.
As I sat there spell bound listening to what Keith was telling me about all of the work they had done in the area, he asked me what I knew about the program Forever Wild. I told him that I really didn’t know much about it at all but I would be more than happy to learn. He informed me that Forever Wild was much like Nature Conservancy and that in 1992 it had been approved to become a part of our government and is protected by state amendment. They have acquired and set aside over 200,000 acres of land for public use. They have ensured that areas like the Bibb County Glades would be there for future generations. He then informed me that if we weren’t careful we could lose that organization and the work they do. I asked how and he informed me that it was now in the hands of the citizens of Alabama. On the 2012 presidential ballot there would be the referendum to give Forever Wild constitutional protection and preserve those needed funds to keep Alabama Wild.
I sat there reflecting over all of the work that groups like the Nature Conservancy and Forever Wild have done while I took pictures, and trying in vain to capture the beauty of the area to share it with others. I looked over to my left and watched my girl friend, whom I had brought along for the adventure, taking pictures of the area while her son was playing in a slow shallow pool of the glade. In that moment I was grateful to the efforts of people like Jim Allison, the Nature Conservancy, and Forever Wild. Because of their hard work we have a place unique in the world that is protected for us to enjoy. Jimmy Carter once said, “love of nature is a common language that can transcend social and political boundaries.”
I know that to be true, and with one voice we can agree when we vote next year.