A public park for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, birding and wildlife watching is now open in Springville in St. Clair County.

Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve is located about 30 miles northeast of Birmingham. Its first day of operation was Saturday.

The Preserve is open Wednesdays through Sundays (closed Mondays and Tuesdays). Operational hours are 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. November through February and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. March through October.

For more information about Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve, including a trail map, visit Springville Parks and Recreation online.

Preserve facilities now include pet waste stations, benches, trash cans and picnic tables in both the upper and lower parking areas and two portalets in the upper parking area. Future plans include expansion of the horseback riding/hiking trail and the construction of pavilions to host outdoor education events.

The Preserve is situated in the "Ridge and Valley Region" of Alabama and features a mix of upland hardwood and pine forests along Big Canoe Creek that provide a vital habitat for a variety of wildlife and fish, including white-tailed deer, eastern wild turkey, beaver, spotted bass, Goldstripe Darters, Blacknose Dace and more.

The Preserve is also part of the larger Big Canoe Creek Watershed, home to more than 50 fish species, including the threatened Trispot Darter depicted on the Preserve's entrance gate. Several blooming native plants such as mountain laurels, oak leaf hydrangeas, wild azaleas and buckeyes are also present throughout the Preserve, making seasonal return visits a must.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on Friday. Officials from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), Forever Wild Land Trust, the City of Springville, the St. Clair County Commission and other partner organizations dedicated the new Preserve.

"Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve is a very special place that showcases Alabama's incredible natural diversity," said Chris Blankenship, ADCNR commissioner and chairman of the Forever Wild Land Trust Board of Trustees.

"The opening of this nature preserve is a perfect example of how state and local agencies can partner with businesses and volunteers to provide important habitat for wildlife as well as to provide access to quality outdoor recreation. Everyone involved in this project is looking forward to now sharing it with the public," Blankenship said.

The Forever Wild Land Trust purchased the initial 382-acre tract in Springville in 2018, and 40 acres were added in 2019 for a total acreage of 422 acres in the Preserve. Since then, ADCNR's State Lands Division partnered with the City of Springville and St. Clair County to develop recreational trails. Currently, the Preserve offers a variety of hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding trails totaling 7.3 miles.

Springville Mayor Dave Thomas said the Preserve will have a positive impact on the community and surrounding areas by providing outdoor recreation and education opportunities.

"The City of Springville is thrilled for the opening of the Preserve," Thomas said. "This Forever Wild project has been years in the making. A special thank you is given to all of those who have worked on this project over the past 14 years. We are excited to present the unique outdoor education and recreation opportunities to our community and surrounding area. The history of the property, accompanied by features such as the bioretention area, allows for curiosity and learning to organically occur. The preserve is expected to have a positive economic impact on Springville's small businesses by driving ecotourism, the fastest-growing sector of the tourism industry, to our area. We can hardly wait to share all that makes our small town so special with all of our new friends."

St. Clair County Commission chairman Stan Batemon, who is a retired ADCNR conservation enforcement officer, biologist, avid hiker, bird watcher and naturalist, has been involved in the development of the Preserve since its inception. He said the Preserve is an important asset for the economic and community growth of St. Clair County.

"I am very excited to see the opening of the Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve," said Batemon. "I applaud the City of Springville and the original Canoe Creek working group for their perseverance and commitment to make this Forever Wild tract a world-class outdoor recreation and education addition to the quality-of-life offerings to our citizens both in St. Clair County and to future generations of outdoor enthusiasts."

Doug Morrison, Preserve manager for the City of Springville, says he is proud to see the community's vision for this project become fully realized and be opened to the public. Before being hired as manager in 2022, Morrison served from 2008 to 2020 as president of "The Friends of Big Canoe Creek" – a nonprofit that works to protect and preserve Big Canoe Creek and its tributaries for the benefit of its communities and the health of the watershed.

"The Preserve has been a labor of love for me as I have watched and worked to get to this point for 15 years," Morrison said. "I am humbled by the efforts of all the partner organizations, local leaders, businesses and volunteers who have made this vision a reality. This was truly a group effort more than a decade in the making and I sincerely thank everyone who was involved. The Preserve is a very special place and I look forward to sharing it with our community and visitors from across the state."

Partners that helped make the opening of Big Canoe Creek Nature Preserve possible include ADCNR, ADCNR's 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 Blue Shield of Alabama, Norris Paving, Schoel Engineering, Homestead Hollow, United Way of Central Alabama and KEBCO.

"422 acres of pristine meandering creek, lush forest, one-of-a-kind species, wildlife, stunning flora and trails of all kinds to be traveled."

Jim Zeigler is a former Alabama Public Service Commissioner and State Auditor. You can reach him for comments at ZeiglerElderCare@yahoo.com.

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