A Day on the Locust Fork

Locust Fork below Swann Bridge

Locust Fork below Swann Bridge

By Todd Keith

When the opportunity to tag along with Dr. Jim Lacefield, a geologist and author of Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide; conservation photographer Beth Young and environmentalist James Lowery of UAB, to learn more about the Black Warrior Watershed, I wasn’t going to let it pass by. Specifically, we were headed for Cornelius Beach and Powell Falls on the Locust Fork, not too far downstream from Swann Bridge.

Flowing freely through Etowah, Marshall, and Blount Counties to form the Black Warrior River in northwest Jefferson County, the Locust Fork river is listed in the top 2% of the nation’s rivers with “outstandingly remarkable” values. And given the large number of dams in the state that turn nearly all of our major rivers into impoundments and lakes (generating 7% of Alabama’s energy needs), protecting what remains seems an altogether important task. The Locust Fork is one of Alabama’s few remaining free-flowing rivers and a priceless treasure for the state

Swann Covered Bridge near Oneonta

Swann Covered Bridge near Oneonta

The Black Warrior River and it’s many tributaries, the northern sister system to the treasured Cahaba River, embraces the north portion of Alabama’s largest city, Birmingham, including the Mulberry Fork and magnificent Locust Fork, then stretches north and west to include the Sipsey River and finally flows down past Tuscaloosa and on to Demopolis. The system starts in the Appalachian Mountains and ends in the coastal plain, flowing through a bewilderingly diverse landscape. It stretches 178 miles, but its total drainage area is 6,275 square miles, a hefty portion of north central Alabama. Along with the Cahaba River, the Black Warrior can rightly be called Alabama’s heart river, central to the state both in its geographical course as well as in the number of biological treasured contained within.

Curiously, the Locust Fork is older than the mountains it flows through, actually cutting across and through at least 13 ridges in its course. These “water gaps” as they are called show that there was a river here when the Appalachian Mountains were being lifted—probably not the actual Locust Fork itself, but another older river course that the present day Locust Fork follows, explains Dr. Jim Lacefield. “No one has even named the old coal age river, call it the “Ancestral Locust Fork,” Lacefield says. “This was a big river, about the size of the Mississippi River up near Cairo, Illinois. The evidence is how much sand was moved downriver in that time. The real secrets are in the rock.”

Powell Falls on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River

Powell Falls on the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River

One of the nicer aspects of taking a day off to look at the Black Warrior River Watershed—specifically Locust Fork at Cornelius Beach and Powell Falls below Swann Covered Bridge—is that you begin to realize there are thousands of proverbial “wells,” from scenic little spots that few have heard of to newly recognized treasures like Hurricane Creek. You see the lower Black Warrior River, a waterway that does the unglamorous work that Alabamians require of it, transporting industrial goods like coal, chemicals, coke wood, and steel up and down the length of our state to ports, cities and countries beyond. You see the unparallel beauty of the Locus Fork, a pristine stretch to cherish. You see a great variety within one watershed that means so many things to so many different people in Alabama.

Heck, a quick look on a map of the river system and you realize just how many creeks, streams and other waterways make up the whole… Black Warrior River, Sipsey Fork, Mulberry Fork, Locust Fork, Hurricane Creek, Smith Lake, Turkey Creek, Village Creek, North River, Dry Creek, Duck River, Inland Lake, Five Mile Creek, Highland Lake, Valley Creek…

As of yet, you do not, except among the few who deeply study the system, see a greater consciousness among the public that says this is a treasure to protect for generations. That’s going to have to change if this treasure is going to remain.

Blount County Covered Bridge Festival, Onteonta

more about “Blount County Covered Bridge Festival…“, posted with vodpod

At the Black Warrior’s Locust Fork

more about “At the Black Warrior’s Locust Fork“, posted with vodpod

Turkey Creek Nature Preserve opens

By Todd Keith

In one of the more encouraging signs that the Birmingham region is headed in the right direction—at least environmentally speaking in terms of quality of life for it’s citizens—Turkey Creek Nature Preserve was officially opened this past weekend.

Turkey Creek, a tributary of the Locust Fork and the Black Warrior River system, is located 20 minutes north of Birmingham near the community of Pinson. The falls, a popular spot for locals on a picnic or swimming excursion since the 1870s, arguably look the best they have in ages.

Thanks to a partnership between the Southern Environmental Center at Birmingham-Southern College, the city of Pinson, FreshWater Land Trust, Alabama Forever Wild Program, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Jefferson County, and others, a host of improvements dot the 466-acre preserve. Gates now guard the entrance, along with a welcome center. A new garden of native plants, environmental landscaping, removal of graffiti and other improvements allow the natural beauty of Turkey Creek Falls to become the focal point of any visit to the preserve.

Turkey Creek

Turkey Creek

This short run of wooded creek nestled in between ridges is home to three endangered species of fish: the Vermilion Darter (<em>Etheostoma chermocki</em>), the Watercress Darter (<em>Etheostoma nuchale</em>), and the Rush Darter (<em>Etheostoma phytophilum</em>). The Rush and Vermilion Darters occur only in Turkey Creek and nowhere else in the world. The creek also shelters the endangered flattened musk turtle.

Blount County’s Covered Bridge Festival

Every autumn the county celebrates the Covered Bridge Festival in Oneonta to commemorate its three remaining covered bridges.