Scenic. Historic. These words describe the 466-acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve. However, if not for the Land Trust and a number of other partners, the Nature Preserve may not exist as it does today.

The Preserve is an outstanding example of a private initiative to protect endangered species. At Turkey Creek, the Land Trust worked for two years to combine approximately $1.5 million from the Jefferson County Greenways Program with $750,000 in private landowner contributions to secure support from the Alabama Forever Wild Program, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Jefferson County and others to help establish the 700-acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and Greenways.

The Preserve is an outstanding example of a private initiative to protect endangered species.

The Preserve is an outstanding example of a private initiative to protect endangered species. At Turkey Creek, the Land Trust worked for two years to combine approximately $1.5 million from the Jefferson County Greenways Program with $750,000 in private landowner contributions to secure support from the Alabama Forever Wild Program, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Jefferson County and others to help establish the 700-acre Turkey Creek Nature Preserve and Greenways.
Turkey Creek, a tributary of Locust Fork, is located a mere 20 minutes north of Birmingham near the community of Pinson. Turkey Creek is home to three endangered species of fish: the Vermilion Darter (Etheostoma chermocki), the Watercress Darter (Etheostoma nuchale), and the Rush Darter (Etheostoma phytophilum). The Rush and Vermilion Darters occur only in Turkey Creek and nowhere else in the world.

Today, Land Trust efforts have leveraged almost $10 million worth of conservation projects in the watershed. The Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is owned by Alabama’s Forever Wild Program and co-managed by Forever Wild, the Land Trust, and a local community group named START (Society to Advance the Resources at Turkey Creek). The tract is managed as a nature preserve and thus hosts a number of passive recreational opportunities including hiking and nature photography.

The Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is home to an excellent environmental education program. The Land Trust found the perfect educational partners in the Southern Environmental Center and Birmingham-Southern College. The Center’s experience in environmental education, combined with the College’s new Environmental Urban Studies Program, result in an educational experience like no other for area children and college students. Charles Yeager, director of the program, conducts classes throughout the Preserve and at the on-site environmental center. The Freshwater Land Trust was able to purchase the environmental center in 2008 with funds recovered from the sale of the Preserve to Forever Wild.

Since the 1870s, historical accounts record extensive use of the Turkey Creek Falls, located within today’s Nature Preserve site,

In addition to significant biological diversity, The Turkey Creek watershed has great historical significance. Since the 1870s, historical accounts record extensive use of the Turkey Creek Falls, located within today’s Nature Preserve site, for picnicking and outdoor recreation.

Several prehistoric Native American sites have been documented. In addition, the home and mill of David Hanby, one of Alabama’s most aggressive early industrialist entrepreneurs and a pioneer in the development of Alabama’s coal industry, has been documented within the Preserve. The site is also home to the ruins of the Mount Pinson Ironworks, a small forge and foundry built in 1863 that supplied horseshoes for Confederate troops during the Civil War.

THE ANATOMY OF THE DEAL

Turkey Creek flows through the northeast Jefferson County community of Pinson. It is home to the Watercress and Vermilion darters, two extraordinary fish currently listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The Falls on Turkey Creek have been used for picnicking and recreation since the 1870s. But for all its beauty and history, Turkey Creek was almost lost-until the Land Trust stepped in.

1998
Jefferson County proposes building a prison at Turkey Creek, setting off a controversy. The people of Pinson form the Society To Advance the Resources at Turkey Creek (START) and quickly gain 7,000 members. START nominates the prison site to the State’s Forever Wild Land Trust, but the Forever Wild Board turns down the offer to avoid the growing prison controversy.

1999
Jefferson County abandons the proposed prison, and County Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins forms the Turkey Creek Watershed Development Committee. The Committee envisions a nature preserve of approximately 630 acres.

2000
The Turkey Creek Watershed Development Committee re-nominates the Nature Preserve site to Forever Wild where it scores highly as a state nature preserve. However, the project proves too complicated with multiple landowners, and fails to move forward.

2001
The Turkey Creek Watershed Development Committee meets with Wendy Jackson, Executive Director of the Freshwater Land Trust, to seek guidance on implementation strategies. The Freshwater Land Trust offers to help the Committee acquire both land and partners for Turkey Creek.

The Land Trust eyes 180 acres owned by a developer, Patrick O’Sullivan, for acquisition. Mr. O’Sullivan’s land is particularly desirable because it contains over a mile of Turkey Creek and the historic Turkey Creek Falls. In addition, it is zoned both commercial and multi-family residential, making it prime for development.

John Akin and Martha Akin Walston meet with the Land Trust about 24 pristine acres along the creek that have been in their family for over 100 years. The family wishes to see the property preserved in honor of their grandfather, R. DuPont Thompson, the original landowner. The family donates 21 acres of the land and conveys a conservation easement on the remaining 3 acres including a historic home built at the turn of the 20th century.

2002
The Freshwater Land Trust meets with Patrick O’Sullivan and negotiates a deal that includes a fee simple purchase of 141 acres and a donation of 40 additional acres. The Land Trust presents a package of tax benefits that makes the offer attractive to Mr. O’Sullivan. He agrees to the deal.

2003
Using the Akin/ Walston and O’Sullivan gifts as a match, the Land Trust is chosen by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to receive a highly competitive grant in the amount of $853,000. This grant is used to acquire an additional 47 acres from the Thomas estate, another family seeking to preserve their heritage. This critical acquisition protects spawning habitat for the Vermilion Darter.

The Land Trust, in partnership with the Jefferson County Commission, packages 466 acres of property acquired along Turkey Creek and nominates it once again to Forever Wild. Thanks to the charitable partners, this land package valued at $4.7 million is offered at the discounted price of $2 million. The Forever Wild Board applauds the local efforts and votes unanimously to accept the offer.

The Land Trust will use the $2 million recovered from the sale to Forever Wild for additional land acquisition along Turkey Creek. They also retain 24 acres donated by the Akin and Walston families for the creation of an interpretive center.

Turkey Creek Falls is preserved and everybody wins.