Cheaha State Park October 20 and 21, 2021: Dusk to Dawn Sequence

I returned to Cheaha State Park October 20, 2021, for an Alabama State Parks Foundation evening reception and dinner, and next day Board meeting. A group of Board members and guests strolled to the Bald Rock Overlook to view sunset prior to our scheduled evening gathering in the Lodge. I think you will enjoy this chronicled series of photographs extending from when we met at the trailhead at 5:43 PM until the post-sunset glow at 6:15.

I returned to the overlook alone in the dark the next morning, enjoying the dawning sequence from 6:20 to 6:39 AM. Unlike most of my Blog Posts, this one offers just a few observations and comments, with parenthetical notations of exact time for each image.

The crew gathered enthusiastically for our leisurely walk on the ADA-accessible boardwalk, stopping occasionally along the way for interpretation (5:43 and 5:45).

Cheaha

 

 

 

 

Dusk

Ten minutes later we reached the overlook, enjoying a splendid evening sky accented with wisps of cirrus signaling the cold front approaching from the west to arrive the next morning. Official sun tables for Cheaha Mountain showed October 20 sunset at 6:03; these images are about ten minutes shy (5:53 and 5:54).

Cheaha

 

The actual exact time of sunset proved rather dull, yet deep colors emerged as the sun, streaming from below the horizon, illuminated the underside of the clouds along the western horizon (6:02 and 6:09).

Cheaha

 

The show deepened as the sun sunk lower. Note in the right image the solar rays reaching from below the horizon (6:10 and 6:12).

Cheaha

 

Colors faded quickly after I captured the final glow. By the time we returned to the Lodge darkness had fallen. We welcomed the roaring fire outside (6:15).

Cheaha

 

What could possibly exceed the fulfillment and inspiration from an evening stroll, an observation deck sunset from Alabama’s highest peak, and an embracing bonfire!

Dawn

I read that sunrise would bless the new day at 6:54 AM. I wanted to be at the overlook with plenty of time to spare. I’ve learned that my iPhone camera, with its three-second exposure, captures available light far better than my eyes. These two photos, taken more than 30 minutes in advance of sunrise, reveal early color and mostly cloudy skies (6:20 and 6:22).

Cheaha

 

The view to the NE (below left) clearly shows Anniston, Alabama. The lower right view is north, midway between Anniston and Talladega. Again, I snapped the images during what appeared to me as nearly full darkness (6:23 and 6:23).

Cheaha

 

Just a few minutes brought noticably greater illumination to the Talladega horizon (below left), the foreground Virginia pines, and even to the boardwalk signage (6:29 and 6:31).

Cheaha

 

 

 

 

Although sunrise would not occur for another 20 minutes, visual detail both near and far rapidly emerged (6:31 and 6:32).

Cheaha

 

Looking back from the overlook, the nature of the forest is apparent. Stunted Virginia pine and oak amount to little more than a shrub layer near the rimrock. Fractured rock, impoverished shallow soils, and exposure to harsh winds prohibit high-forest development. However, I did not visit the overlook pre-dawn to see towering trees and deep forest (6:32 and 6:39)!

Cheaha

 

The aforementioned cold front brought morning showers and even one clap of thunder, reminding me how much I would like to stand at the overlook watching a thunderstorm race across the valley from west to east, yet I knew that I would more than likely have retreated to the safety of the lodge.

Afternoon

The front passed to our south and east by noon, leaving a clear view of Cheaha as we departed early afternoon (1:11 pm).

Cheaha

 

The continuing cycles of weather, sunrise and sunset, and season add infinite variety to my Nature explorations. A sage once posited that variety is the spice of life. So, too, is variety the spice of Nature. I suppose that I could visit Cheaha daily across a year…or a lifetime…and each day marvel at its beauty, magic, wonder, and awe.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • What could possibly exceed the fulfillment and inspiration from an evening stroll, an observation deck sunset from Alabama’s highest peak, and an embracing bonfire!
  • A sage once posited that variety is the spice of life. So, too, is variety the spice of Nature.
  • I could visit Cheaha daily across a year…or a lifetime…and each day marvel at its beauty, magic, wonder, and awe. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's Books

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

Cheaha State Park October 20 and 21, 2021

I returned to Cheaha State Park October 20, 2021, for an Alabama State Parks Foundation evening reception and dinner, and next day Board meeting. I am pleased to offer photos and reflections from explorations that afternoon with Mandy Pearson, Park Naturalist. We visited the recently opened Interpretive Center and hiked parts of two new trails. I’ve published eight previous Great Blue Heron Posts on Cheaha. The most recent: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/03/20/non-flowering-plants-atop-the-mountain-at-cheaha-ee-aa-annual-conference/ For the other seven, go to my web site Blog tab (http://stevejonesgbh.com/blog/) and search for ‘Cheaha.’

Having grown up in the central Appalachians, those ancient mountains live deep in my body, mind, heart, soul, and spirit. Among Alabama’s 21 State Parks, Cheaha acts as a beacon calling me back to what feels like my roots. These southern Appalachians soothe and comfort me, restore my sense of well-being, and rekindle memories otherwise dormant.

Judy and I checked into the Bald Rock Lodge at a little after noon (below).

Cheaha

 

Interpretive Center

We rendezvoused with Mandy at the Interpretive Center at Lake Cheaha, which sits 800 feet below Cheaha’s 2,407-foot summit.

 

The Interpretive Center, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s, had served as the lake’s bath house before being converted this past summer to its new use. The “CCC Boys,” who also built the Bald Rock Lodge, sure mastered the craft of exquisite stone masonry! Little could they imagine that more than eight decades hence their stonework, backdropped by a cerulean sky, would inspire visitors from all fifty states and beyond.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt established the CCC, memorializing his intent:

I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work…More important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work.

Men and nature must work hand in hand. The throwing out of balance of the resources of nature throws out of balance also the lives of men.

The balance of men and nature FDR sought lives on resolutely today at Cheaha State Park.

Cheaha

 

The new Interpretive Center will serve park visitors for generations to come.

CheahaCheaha

 

The Lake and its Cheaha backdrop, as I hinted above, transport me back in time…and 600 miles northward along the spine of the Appalachians. My third book, Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits (co-authored with Jennifer Wilhoit), carries an apt subtitle: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature. Cheaha is one of those special places for which I feel deep passion. Muir foreshadowed my own sentiments:

We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

Cheaha

 

Tim Haney Sensory Trail

 

Tim Haney retired in 2021 from his post as Alabama State Parks’ Operational Supervisor for the North Region. He began his State Parks career in 1977. Cheaha recently established a trail in Tim’s honor. The Sensory Trail focuses hikers on understanding and connecting to multiple facets of Nature along the way. I’ve hiked with Tim, and I have admired and appreciated his own intimate harmony with trees, flowers, fauna, soil, rocks, water…the entire ecosystem.

CheahaCheaha

 

 

Among many other highlights along the trail, this station reminded us that living forests…vibrant ecosystems…include both life and death, a continuing cycle of carbon, water, organic matter, and nutrients.

Cheaha

 

Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy Trail

 

From an online National Library of Medicine site:

Current literature supports the comprehensive health benefits of exposure to nature and green environments on human systems. The aim of this state-of-the-art review is to elucidate empirical research conducted on the physiological and psychological effects of Shinrin-Yoku (or Forest Bathing) in transcontinental Japan and China. Furthermore, we aim to encourage healthcare professionals to conduct longitudinal research in Western cultures regarding the clinically therapeutic effects of Shinrin-Yoku and, for healthcare providers/students to consider practicing Shinrin-Yoku to decrease undue stress and potential burnout.

This new trail introduces hikers to the Shinrin concept, also known as forest bathing, a form of nature therapy. Because our afternoon window permitted only skimming the interpretive signage along both new trails, I will dedicate time to full immersion on my next Cheaha visit.

Cheaha

 

My routine forest strolling pace allows plenty of time for seeking the Nature-magic that lies hidden in plain sight. However, what I gleaned from the signage suggests ratcheting down the pace another notch. My own Nature wanderings involve close observation. Observation, I’ve found, requires concentrated effort.

Observation and perception are two different things; the observing eye is stronger; the perceiving eye is weaker (Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings).

From shinrinyoku-united.org:

A Shinrin-Yoku forest bathing walk consists of a series of activities & sits, designed to help the participants to bathe in the surroundings, the environment and energy of the forest, allowing them to slow down, breathe, and refocus on their body, while connecting to their various senses.

Admittedly, slowing to the Shinrin forest pace may not be easy for me. However, as I contemplate the notion, I may already practice a variant of forest bathing. I do observe deeply, capture photographs, then do my contemplative forest bathing at home as I sort and organize images, reflect upon the images, and then develop a cogent tale…a story of the visit that draws connections, illustrates Nature in action, and offers lessons for living, learning, serving, and leading.

Cheaha

 

I did pay a lot of attention as I traversed the Shinrin-Yoku trail. In all honesty, I trundled along at my standard pace, except stopping to read a sign or two. Lichen-coated rocks and emerging fall yellows caught my eye.

Cheaha

 

I suppose the true Shinrin practitioner would have found a spot to lie flat, gazing into the high-canopy foliar show (left). No such spot below right among the pavement of shattered stones and downed woody debris!

Cheaha

 

The Shinrin Trail brought us to the rimrock looking west some 800 feet above Cheaha Lake.

Cheaha

 

Another perfect spot, within the context of forest bathing, to sit awhile, encouraging me to bathe in the surroundings, the environment and energy of the forest…to slow down, breathe, and refocus…while connecting to…various senses. I cannot argue with the wisdom of Shinrin. In fact, I often do just that…sit and quietly absorb the essence of special places. Yet, here is where I fall short of the Shinrin ideal. Normally, I sit in contemplation with my senses alert to keen observation, until I urge myself to get back to my feet in search of the next focus of concentration and observation. My shortfall? I fail to sit in relaxed absorption, resisting the urge to forge ahead, allowing myself to become infused within the place…to permit me to free my body, mind, soul, spirit, and heart to float among the elements of Nature…to experience where I wander on a level unfamiliar to me.

CheahaCheaha

 

And now, I must concede that I might not be able to take that next Shinrin step. I may not be willing to give my subconscious free reign, allowing myself to float among the forest vapors. In fact, I know that given the kind place I would choose to sit in Shinrin reflection, a near-certain result would be Steve slipping into nap time! Okay, I won’t know until I try. I commit to you that I will push myself in the Shinrin direction. I’ll report back to you.

With or without Shinrin, I will always take time to notice things as simple as this dead and decaying tree along the Shinrin Trail, emblematic of the ongoing cycle of life and death.

Cheaha

 

In Defiance of Fall

Death and renewal, year after year after year, is a forest ecosystem theme now and forevermore. The yellow beyond the shattered stump above and below right is golden aster, still flowering, an act of renewal in a season of senescence. Likewise, a purple aster is flowering in defiance of the imminent autumn.

CheahaCheaha

 

I find magic in our forests whenever and wherever I roam. Even without practicing Shinrin-Yoku, I believe I experience our forests far deeper and more meaningfully than the average hiker I encounter. I attribute the difference to employing what I term my Five Essential Verbs for maximizing benefit from my Nature wanderings: Believe, Look, See, Feel, and Act.

    • I find Nature’s beauty, magic, wonder, and awe because I know they lie hidden within view — belief enables me to look and see
    • Really look, with eyes open to my surroundings, external to electronic devices and the distractions of meaningless noise and data
    • Staying alert to see deeply, beyond the superficial
    • See clearly, with comprehension, to find meaning and evoke feelings
    • Feel emphatically enough to spur action

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Cheaha Mountain State Park is a special gem.
  • We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us (John Muir).
  • Two new interpretive trails at Cheaha spotlight the System’s mission element to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2022 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksCheaha

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

Early October Foray at Monte Sano State park

At the north Alabama intersection of late summer and early fall, October 4, 2021, I hiked the Wells Memorial and Sinks Trails at nearby Monte Sano State Park with my two Alabama grandsons Jack and Sam. We explored the deep-cove cathedral forest with towering yellow poplars, admired some tree form oddities, and examined other non-tree curiosities we discovered along the way.

Wells Memorial and Sinks Trails

 

As morning clouds thinned that damp morning, we stopped at the overlook, standing at 1,600-feet, the boys’ backs to the ENE. We drove from there to the new mountain bike pavilion, trailhead for the Sinks Trail.

Monte Sano

 

We dropped from there to the Wells Memorial Trail, transiting the loop to Keith and connecting back to Sinks. The deep cove forest trail is dedicated to the memory of William Arthur Wells, a former Monte Sano State Park CCC worker who joined the US Navy at the onset of WWII and died at the October 1944 Battle of Leyte Gulf. The trail passes through my favorite grove at Monte Sano. I’ve written frequently about this memorial trail: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/10/05/contemplating-a-video-tale-of-the-william-arthur-wells-memorial-trail-monte-sano-state-park/

Monte Sano

 

The boys posed at a cluster of basswood trees that originated from stump sprouts many decades ago.

Monte Sano

 

Tree Form Oddities

 

Always on the lookout for tree form oddities and curiosities, we discovered this critter peering at us from around a black oak. Although we had visited the grove many times, this was the creature’s first appearance! A turtle? Dragon? Kin of ET? The woods present mysteries aplenty to those willing to lighten up, who invite their keen imagination to accompany them. I seldom leave home without mine. I know a little mirth enriches the learning experience…keeps the young at heart entertained, sparks their curiosity, and rewards their explorations. The scientist within me recognizes that the protuberant growth is an old broken branch stub morphed by callous tissue overgrowing (somewhat out of control) the old wound. How dull it would be to have left my imagination at home, or worse yet, to have abandoned it in my youth.

 

Sam ventured hesitantly close to this gnarled red oak, enchanted (and not just a little unnerved) by the tree’s emergence from The Hobbit or Sleepy Hollow! Long ago injured and infected with decay fungi, this massively-burled oak is simply striving to stay vertical as its heartwood rots, maintaining life and producing acorns to continue its lineage with future generations that may escape early-life injury, and grow unimpaired and without what we foresters consider commercial defect and disfigurement.

Allow me to paraphrase a relevant John Muir quote:

God never made an ugly tree (Muir said ‘landscape’). All that sun shines on is beautiful, so long as it is wild.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not far away we spotted a five-foot-diameter circumferential white oak burl 20 feet above ground. I view such burls as akin to a benign cancer triggered by bacterial, viral, fungal, or some combination of agents introduced decades ago via injury, perhaps as casual a wound as a woodpecker searching for grubs.

Monte Sano

 

I pondered aloud with the boys how many hikers and bikers pass within sight of these curiosities without notice. What else do they miss? All manner of woods magic lies hidden in plain sight.

Monte Sano

 

I wondered whether J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis saw magic in forests and places they visited, stimulating the enchantment of their writing. I am convinced that imaginative minds see the wonder in plain sight. What I see does not create the fantasy so much as what I imagine allows me to see the wizardry that is in plain sight.

Again, John Muir:

The power of imagination makes us infinite.

Non-Tree Features

 

We stumbled upon what is my lifetime favorite type of fern, the maidenhair. I offer several reasons why it is special to me. It is not common here, nor have I found it in abundance wherever we’ve lived. Maidenhair, although hardy, appears delicate, with its very small and lace-like fronds. Its fan-shaped leaves typically clustered on wiry black stems add another distinct characteristic. And I like clump-style ferns.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

Having risen to the level of accomplished novice aficionado (a triple oxymoron?) of wild edible mushrooms, even when I am not foraging, I delight in seeing species I know are edible, including honey (left) and oyster.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Sam spotted this angle-winged katydid. He paused as we hiked, pointing to his left. Jack and I looked some distance trailside, thinking he was directing our attention at a tree well off the path. Instead, he corrected us, the katydid perched just three inches from his finger. I complimented his observation skills, applauded his interest, and identified the insect with iNaturalist. I can think of few things more rewarding to Pap than seeing the boys express interest in and pay attention to Nature.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods:

The children and nature movement is fueled by this fundamental idea: the child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

 

We discover more than we anticipate every time we enter the forest. John Muir said it well:

In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • The child in nature is an endangered species, and the health of children and the health of the Earth are inseparable (Richard Louv).
  • I can think of few things more rewarding than seeing my grandchildren express interest in and pay attention to Nature.
  • The power of imagination makes us infinite (John Muir). 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

Contemplating a Video Tale of the William Arthur Wells Memorial Trail: Monte Sano State Park

Retired videographer Bill Heslip and I are at the early stage of developing a 13-20-minute video telling the Land Legacy Tale of the William Arthur Wells Memorial Trail at Monte Sano State Park.

We interviewed Robert (Bob) Wells the morning of June 25, 2021 at his home in Meridianville, Alabama, just north of Huntsville. Bob donated the 40-acre cathedral forest parcel to the State Park System with the condition that the trail through it be named in honor of his older brother (William Arthur) who died at the WWII Naval Battle at Leyte Gulf in October 1944. Two of my prior Posts provide detail about Bob, his brother, the gift, and the incredible cove forest through which the trail wanders.

Dec 4, 2019: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

May 19, 2020: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2020/05/19/earth-day-visit-to-the-cathedral-forest-along-the-wells-memorial-trail-at-monte-sano-state-park/

After interviewing Bob we left for Bill’s first visit to the trail. We’ll return multiple times over the coming seasons to record sights, scenes, and my reflections as a forester and applied ecologist. The trail is perhaps my favorite across Alabama’s 21 State Parks.

 

Monte Sano

 

The Legacy Tale stirs deep emotions as I reflect on a young man who, like my own WWII veteran Dad, enlisted to join the War effort. Here is Arthur (high school letter sweater) with his parents, both clinging to him as though knowing in those troubled times that clinging may not be enough.

Monte Sano

 

Arthur joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (in CCC uniform below left) after high school. One of his duty assignments, prophetically, detailed him to Monte Sano State Park. With the onset of WWII, Arthur enlisted in the Navy (in uniform below right) bound for the South Pacific.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The cathedral forest did not disappoint Bill (and his wife Becky, below left). The yellow poplar along the trail towers above them. The photo below right peers downhill, deeper into the cove. I feel the spirit of Arthur when I contemplate the place, the gift, and its sentiment. I wonder whether during his Monte Sano CCC days did Arthur venture into this cove. Did he somehow feel the future echoes of the legacy…a chill along the back of his neck.

Monte Sano

Monte Sano

 

Following the interview, Bill captured Bob and Catherine strolling through the backyard.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

Bob sat in a rocking chair for the interview, under the shade of a tree he had planted years earlier. After returning to his office Bob searched for a few photos of Arthur.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

One of the items he found was the newspaper article for the trail dedication.

Monte Sano

 

I thought of Bob’s brother, whom he had last seen nearly a year before Arthur’s ship went down, as we enjoyed the beauty and serenity of the magnificent cathedral cove forest along the trail.

Monte SanoMonte Sano

 

I’ve written often that every parcel of forest, and even every tree, has a story to tell…often evoking deep spirit, passion, and sentiment. I cannot hike this trail without feeling the spirit of a young man who made the ultimate sacrifice for the country I relish today. A young man of my father’s generation…the Greatest Generation. A young man…a patriot, unlike the snowflakes of today who whine and complain about our nation’s faults (past and present), seemingly ignorant that no other nation on the face of the Earth is a better place to live. A better place to live for all Americans. I view the cathedral forest as a symbol for our liberty, freedom, and equality of opportunity for which Arthur gave his life.

God Bless America!

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Every tree and every parcel of land has a story to tell.
  • Oftentimes, the intersection of human and natural history brings the power of passion to the tale.
  • This land came to us out of eternity — when the youngest of us associated with it dies, it will still be here, preserved forevermore in tribute to William Arthur Wells. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksMonte Sano

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

Mid-July Wanderings at DeSoto State Park

July 14 and 15, 2021, brought me to DeSoto State Park for the quarterly Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting. Taking advantage of being there for two days and overnight, I hiked all or parts of three trails at the Park: along the West Fork of the Little River, the Lost Falls Trail, and the Talmadge Butler Azalea Cascade Boardwalk Trail. Nature never disappoints, whether the first day’s nearly five-mile circuit or the second morning’s one-mile boardwalk stroll.

Hiking along the West Fork of the Little River

Although I had been to the Park several times previously, this was my first hike along the West Fork of the Little River, which cuts south along the east side of the Park at approximately 1,400 feet elevation, after dropping 104 feet upstream at DeSoto Falls. Downstream the West and East Forks merge before plunging 45 feet (Little River Falls) into the head of the Little River Canyon, Alabama’s deepest at 600 feet from rimrock to the river.

The West Fork below the Lodge (below left) flowed clearly and quietly southward, yet I saw water-borne debris at least 20 vertical feet higher than the current water level. Where I live, 90-miles to the west/northwest, mid-June’s tropical storm Claudette gave us less than an inch of rain. Fort Payne (near the Park) officially recorded 9.83 inches from Claudette, the deluge responsible for the high-hanging West Fork debris. The river-side hike spurred memories of similar size streams and creeks near my western Maryland central Appalachian home. If I were to substitute white pine for the loblolly pine (below right) I am transported 600 miles north.

DeSotoDeSoto

 

Recently retired North Region Operations Supervisor, Alabama State Parks, Tim Haney, joined me for the hike and stands along the river below left. Tim is facing downstream. At the next morning’s Parks Foundation Board meeting, Jim Emison (also on the hike with his grandson Jay) presented Tim with a commemorative plaque acknowledging three and a half years of service as a Founding Member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board of Directors as he retires from the Board and from Alabama State Parks following 44 years of exemplary service to the State Parks System.

DeSoto

DeSoto

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-Summer Flowers and a Special Mushroom

Although I consider our woodland spring ephemerals as my lifelong abiding love, I have come to appreciate the forest interior species I encounter as our southern growing season develops into the fall. Here are yellow false foxglove in flower (below left) and galax below right with its resplendent glossy emerald foliage.

DeSotoDeSoto

 

I describe the riverside site as a canyon bottom, deeply shaded, rich and moist, and several very noticeable degrees cooler than the adjoining uplands. The plants seemed to demonstrate their appreciation for the micro-climate with verdant foliage. Like the galax above, also bearing showy foliage, pale Indian plantain presented flower buds just days from opening.

DeSoto

 

This southern bush honeysuckle extended its flower-bearing stems into and across the trail, a tentative touch I interpreted as a greeting. I loved the feeling of sheltered comfort, enhanced by the River’s persistent audible mirth as it descended toward Little River Falls.

DeSoto

 

We hiked during the peak season for chanterelle mushrooms, a culinary delight within the fungi kingdom. This patch grew at the trail edge. Two notes: never consume any wild edibles unless you are 100 percent certain of identity; do not harvest anything (mushrooms, plants, flowers, rocks, etc.) from State Parks. As a selective mushroom forager, I fought the urge to collect, wandering on contented by simply seeing these fine specimens thriving in the canyon.

DeSoto

 

Boulders and Prescribed Fire

After we ascended from the river to the uplands, we entered the Laurel Falls Trail behind the Park store to explore the house-sized boulder field, where Jay snapped a photo of Tim, Jim, and me. The young man who lives within me tried not to think that in aggregate we three exceed 200 years of life on Earth, a period which is nothing to the several hundred million year old rocks framing us.

DeSoto

 

Leaving the boulder zone, we strolled within a forest stand through which Park staff ran a prescribed fire just this past March. Fire is a wonderful management tool when used under ideal conditions, reducing fuel that might otherwise increase wildfire intensity, removing dense understory, enhancing wildlife habitat, and extending visibility within the forest. The larger main canopy trees suffer no damage; many of the targeted understory vegetation has or will succumb. Tim and I stand in front of a long-fallen tree trunk charred by the burn. Below right a chanterelle rises from the charred litter and ashes.

DeSotoDeSoto

 

The now more open forest will be blessed next spring with a burst of spring wildflowers.

 

Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail

 

The next morning before breakfast, three of us (fellow Board member Renee Rice, her niece Rachael Blalock, and I) hiked (really, we intentionally strolled) the Talmadge Butler Boardwalk Trail to Azalea Cascade. We found scarlet beebalm (below right) at the entrance.

DeSotoDeSoto

 

The cascade is a magic place of deep shade, rocks, water, trees, and the sounds of birds, frogs, and stream gurgles. The second photo is Rachael’s, taken from her position (below left) looking back to the boardwalk.

DeSotoDeSoto

 

Both of these are Rachael’s from within the boulder tumble where the cascade emerges.

DeSoto

 

We admired a black birch growing atop a rock ledge, having germinated in accumulated organic debris, extending its roots into the mineral soil along the stream. Nature does indeed abhor a vacuum. Any port in a storm will do.

DeSoto

 

The recent deluge and flash response from the azalea cascade stream had washed its bed under the terminal deck clear of litter and debris, exposing tree roots.

DeSoto

 

We found button bush in full flower, a curious spiked display, certainly worthy of a photograph.

 

Smiling Faces Tell the Tale!

 

Rachael’s selfie shows smiling faces, a result of our early morning immersion in a special, reverent place at DeSoto State Park. A place that in some small way reveals the soul of this fifth most-visited natural attraction in Alabama. That’s no small designation within a state that is America’s fourth most biologically diverse.

DeSoto

 

An important element of my retirement Mission is to help people understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. We three accomplished that end…preparing us for the day ahead…and for all the days and years to follow.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • Nature reveals so much to those willing to seek her truths.
  • I find Nature’s treasures wherever I take the time to seek them.
  • Nature’s wonder and awe lie hidden in plain sight. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksDeSoto

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

DeSoto State Park Addition Upstream of DeSoto Falls

July 15, 2021, in conjunction with the quarterly Alabama State Parks Foundation Board meeting, I attended the official on-site announcement of an additional 157 acres to Desoto State Park. The tract lies just upstream of DeSoto Falls on the port (left) side of the West Fork of the Little River. This view looks across the river from the ceremony site. The addition lies upstream (to our left) on that opposite side of the river.

DeSoto

 

Relative to the 48,000 acres of existing State Parks, 157 acres may sound meager. However, 157 acres (well, 160 acres to be exact) is equivalent to a square block of land with one-half-mile sides! We have all heard references to the back forty… the addition is just shy of four back forties! I’ve published several of these Great Blue Heron Posts highlighting a particular 40-acre parcel donated a few years ago to Monte Sano State Park. Here’s one that exemplifies how significant even a single forty can be: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2019/12/04/memory-and-legacy-for-a-sailor-and-hero/

DeSoto State Park covered 3,502 acres, now 3,659! That’s a 4.5 percent increase, which also seems a bit unimpressive. However, it adds more than 1,000 feet of river frontage, an addition that is aesthetically, environmentally, and recreationally quite significant! That’s how Conservation Department Commissioner Chris Blankenship described the addition at the lectern (below left) and in responding to media (below right).

 

DeSoto

DeSoto

 

 

 

 

 

The early afternoon weekday ceremony attracted an appreciative audience (below left in shorts), including Randy Owen (below right), lead singer for the internationally known country group Alabama, home-based in nearby Fort Payne.

 

 

Another view from the site validates my wonder and appreciation for the West Fork of the Little River, tranquil here just a few hundred feet from where it drops 104 feet over the falls. Absolute peace and tranquility beneath a cerulean firmament.

DeSoto

 

That peace and tranquility drifts serenely away over the next couple of hundred feet (below left)…until the drifting accelerates, tumbles, foams, and drops (below right).

DeSotoDeSoto

 

The sky doesn’t notice, hanging royally over both the languid and the tempestuous. The river carried a good mid-July flow owing to ample July rains.

DeSoto

 

However, the falls showed a more violent face when I visited April 23, 2019 after extended heavy rains! It roared its appreciation for downpours, water volume, terrain, and gravity. The power of water increases exponentially, in this image orders of magnitude greater than during my July 15 visit. I felt a sense of pleasurable terror, a feeling of my own nothingness in a world where Nature rules.

 

The DeSoto Falls plunge basin (the semi-circular cliffs and deep pool beneath the falls) evidences the power of epic events, forces well above and beyond the still impressive July 15 flow. I recall visiting a creek in New Hampshire where the summer before had brought a real frog-strangler, a nearly stationary thunderstorm that sat in place for hours. The resultant flooding washed out bridges and destroyed buildings creekside. My host, a biology faculty member at the university I served as president, told me with full confidence that this unprecedented flood was attributable to human-induced climate change, a clarion call to action. I stood bankside marveling at the scouring from the prior season’s flood reaching far above the then rather calm water level. I could see clearly that the flash flood was one of note. However, I also noticed that in the stream channel and all along its course, huge, automobile- home-size rounded boulders rested in place awaiting the next major torrent. The evidence suggested to me that the prior year’s flood was nothing new to this stream. Those rocks told a tale…that this stream writes its signature in form of periodic flash floods, events that occur routinely over centuries, even if not within the time horizon of current human inhabitants.

DeSoto

 

Nature is docile by and large, even as she can be wildly variable. I have lived twice near Syracuse, New York, for which 11-13,000 years ago its current footprint lay under a mile-thick continental ice sheet. The climate warmed; the ice melted; the land is still rebounding (isostatic rebound) from the crust-depressing weight of the ice sheet. Whether the terrain-shaping event is periodic continental glaciation (separated by tens of millennia) or epic flash flooding every few score years, the landscape signature owes to the anomalies and not to the docile flow of the West Fork July 15. Unless we can read Nature’s language we might erroneously attribute each and every storm, drought, cold spell, heat wave, and perturbation as a direct result of human-induced climate change. From Wikipedia, In 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same. I believe Karr’s 170-year-old wisdom applies to climate.

John Muir’s Wisdom Remains Timeless

DeSoto State Park Naturalist Brittany Hughes organized the stair-riser mosaic ascending from the falls observation point.

DeSoto

 

The mosaic treats visitors to one of my (and Brittany’s) favorite John Muir quotes  — Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul. My wanderings in Nature do just that…heal and give strength to my own body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit. We are blessed in Alabama to have 21 State parks totaling 48,000 acres, with at least one Park easily within reach of every Alabama citizen, from Gulf Coast, to Appalachian Mountains, to the Tennessee River. Among those Parks, DeSoto is special, according to the Alabama Tourism Department, the fifth most visited Park and Natural Destination in Alabama (May 2021 Report):

  1. Gulf Shores and Orange Beach
  2. Little River Canyon National Preserve
  3. Oak Mountain State Park
  4.  Wind Creek State Park
  5. DeSoto State Park

Note: July 16, 2021, Outdoor Alabama (The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) posted an article about the ceremony: https://www.outdooralabama.com/articles/desoto-state-park-adds-157-acres-adjacent-little-river . I do not know how long the article will be accessible.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • We in Alabama are blessed to have a State Park System still evolving and growing.
  • Assuring our collective Future-Nature requires investing now.
  • Exploring nature enriches my life, healing and giving strength to my own body, heart, mind, soul, and spirit. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksDeSoto

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

 

Oak Mountain State Park April Tree Form Curiosities

Tree Form Oddities and Curiosities

Marker Trees?

My February, 2021 Post addressed the fact and folklore of the so-termed Indian marker trees I encountered during a January 2021 hike in the bottomland hardwood forests on the eastern end of Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/02/10/indian-marker-trees-separating-folklore-from-fact/

My conclusion in that Post was that most of northern Alabama’s supposed Indian marker trees post-date the presence of Native Americans, and that Nature’s tree form oddities usually have an identifiable cause in form of physical injury. In all honesty, even genuine marker trees resulted from an intentional human-induced physical injury.

April 14-16, 2021 I spent three half-days hiking at Oak Mountain State Park (Pelham, AL). I kept my eyes open for all manner of Nature’s wonder, including tree form oddities and curiosities. None of what triggered my camera (many images below) is an Indian marker tree, although I realize that many persons who champion the Native American attribution for such forms would contest my conclusion. For each photograph I will offer a suspected cause. I often quote Leonardo da Vinci, who 500 years ago mastered the art of acute observation and reasoned judgement:

There is no result in nature without a cause; understand the cause and you will have no need of the experiment.

Scottie Jackson, Central District Naturalist (left), stands with her left foot on what was the toppled stump of a sapling sweetgum. Some force (wind, ice, a tree or large branch falling on it) felled the young tree, lifting its upslope roots. Enough of its downslope roots remained intact to sustain life in the prostrate stem. Oak Mountain State Park Naturalist Lauren Muncher stands ten feet from Scottie at the point where the felled sapling stem severed (its calloused-over stub remains) and the still-vibrant tree produced a new vertical shoot that now reaches into the main canopy. An Indian marker tree? No, the cause is Nature at work, employing her seeming limitless power to overcome physical insult and injury. I am sure that Native Americans learned to create their marker trees by observing Nature in practice.

Oak Mountain

 

 

Nature knows her stuff. Like the sweetgum above, this American beech (as a sapling) toppled. Scottie is kneeling at its then-base. Lauren stands 12 feet away where the beech sent its shoot skyward, in this case into the intermediate forest canopy. Beech is shade tolerant and can survive long-term without being in the main canopy.

Oak Mountain

 

Here’s a closer look at both points. Examining both the sweetgum and the beech revealed a great deal. It also raised a question to which I have no firm answer. That is, along the felled stems did either or both individuals set new roots in addition to those still in soil-contact from the toppled base? Perhaps on some future outing I will carry my Sharpshooter spade in search of a similar tree so that I can answer the question. Based upon the less-than-vigorous appearance of the segment lying on the ground for both individuals, I am offering the hypothesis that the stems rooted at the point where the vertical shoot now extends.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

As with so many of my photographed tree form oddities, I ask you to imagine. Imagine this now 18-inch diameter yellow poplar as a pole-sized tree being slammed to 30-degrees from the horizontal by a sizeable object…a falling tree or large branch, the impact severe enough to snap the top ten feet above the stump. This individual employed the mechanism stuffed in its genetic toolbox through countless yellow poplar generations — its internal chemistry stirred a dormant bud on its nearly prostrate bole. That bud awakened via growth hormones to send a shoot vertically, now extending into the main canopy. Is the bent stem pointing to something? Yes, everything points to something. Is it intentionally by some act of man pointing to something? No, this is a random act by Nature’s hand.

Oak Mountain

 

Here is an act occurring within the past year. A dead snag, probably this past dormant season, broke at its base, falling into a sugar maple sapling. The sugar maple now leans about ten degrees from the vertical. The impact snapped the maple ten feet above its base. I predict that the top will die beyond the break and that the leaning ten-foot base will activate a dormant bud or two, producing a stem that will reach into the mid-canopy. Like beech, sugar maple is shade tolerant and can survive under the main forest canopy for decades. This is a future tree-form curiosity.

Oak Mountain

 

Nature has no new tricks. Any force that acted decades (millennia) ago is still happening today. I accept the fortuity of finding the recent evidence of such a force at work on the sugar maple. In my ideal world, the on-park Naturalist would note the location of this future marker tree, and visit it every five years to develop a photo-chronology. The tree will either do as I predict…or not. If the former, the permanent photo record will serve as a resource for telling a tale repeated time and again in our  forests.

 

Contorted and Misshapen

 

This American beech at Maggie’s Glen, I am sure, has a tale to tell. It has stood streamside for well over a century, witnessing Nature’s cycles and hundreds of hikers, picnickers, and campers. Far too many young lovers (and vandals) have carved their fleeting thoughts and initials into its bark. Perhaps an ill-placed campfire scorched and opened the wound that led to its hollowed state.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Trees don’t start out in life with a mission to develop in a manner that enables forest travelers like me to see from one side to the other. Oh, the wonder of hearing the stories this beech could tell!

Oak Mountain

 

Here’s a formerly forked black oak, which is trying to callous over the injury caused by the other fork wrenching apart. Even were the ceaseless efforts to succeed in fully callousing over the wound, the tree is destined to live with heart rot until some force sees through the façade and topples it.

Oak Mountain

 

Recall the sugar maple above. The maple (below left) may predict what the earlier tree will look like 10-20 years hence. I’m standing below right with a red oak that suffered a similar physical insult. Both trees are alive…and both will deal the rest of their days with severe heart rot.

Oak Mountain

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This large yellow poplar lost its twin fork decades ago, long enough that no on-the-ground evidence of its fallen twin is visible. The tree continues it valiant efforts to callous over the wound. But valiant and successful don’t always overlap. Deep heart rot has already structurally weakened this individual. Will it break at the base due to the decay? I can’t be sure. The view to its crown shows it reaching into a co-dominant position. Despite its wound, the tree appears otherwise healthy and competitive.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Here’s testament that hollow is not imminently fatal. Who knows how long this American beech survived with just a circumferential rind of cambium and intact wood. It toppled, along with many solid-stemmed forest trees, summer of 2020 when the tropical storm strength remnants of one of the many gulf hurricanes shot northward across central Alabama.

Oak Mountain

 

Nature renders many forest occupants battered, contorted, and misshapen. I find fascination in both the cause and the result.

Multiple Stems

 

I recently taught an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (at the University of Alabama in Huntsville) course focusing on our Land Trust of North Alabama. I incorporated several photographs of trail-side trees forked at near-ground level. Participants questioned me about the origin and relative frequency of such multiple-stemmed trees. I explained that many of our hardwood forests regenerated from stump sprouts following timber harvesting. Oaks, among several species, are prolific sprouters. This five-stemmed chestnut oak stump sprout cluster is a classic. Imagine a freshly cut stump in the center of today’s five stems. Now, visualize multiple dormant buds sprouting from the stump. There may have been (in fact, probably were) more than these five survivors. The photo below right views upward from the center of the five. Four of the five are growing somewhat straight, leaning out from the vertical so that each has its own crown space in the main canopy. The fifth stem (upper right of the image) curves away from the other four. It probably fell behind the others in height gain, resulting in its sharper angle away to get out from under their shade.

Oak Mountain

 

Multiple stemmed individuals are common in our second growth hardwood stands. To some, I suppose, a curiosity…yet, not a mystery.

 

Oddities and Curiosities of a Different Sort

 

We stumbled across dog vomit slime mold (Fuligo septica), an apt description given its amorphous mossy-lumpy yellow to whitish appearance. It’s also called scrambled egg slime mold and witches’ spit. The organism is slimy and gelatinous, much as its various monikers would suggest. I have encountered other slime molds. This one left an indelible impression, in part because of its common name. Certainly I categorize this slime mold as an oddity and curiosity.

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

We found several other examples of this species, each one distinct from the others. All are memorable in their own way.

Oak Mountain

 

Deep in the shade of a cove forest we found a mid-canopy American beech with a distinct vertical delineation separating the lichen-coated north side from what I’ll describe as the sun-bleached southern exposure. I don’t recall previously seeing such a strong north-south divide. I can offer no other explanation.

Oak Mountain

 

I shall continue to search for, examine, appreciate, and attempt to explain each and every forest oddity and curiosity.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these observations:

  • I relish finding and seeking to understand and explain tree form oddities.
  • I find many curiosities; very few of them are total mysteries.
  • Most of our supposed “marker trees” post-date Native American occupation here in north Alabama; Nature does the marking. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

Late March 2021 Tornado Damage at Oak Mountain State Park

My March 23, 2021 Great Blue Heron Blog Post reflected on natural disasters: http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/03/23/reflections-on-natural-disasters/

Here’s a brief excerpt: From the perspective of managers and recreationists at Joe Wheeler State Park (Rogersville, AL), the December 2019 tornado that destroyed the campground amounted to a natural disaster. Nature “handles” such disasters in stride. In fact, such storms serve to renew the forest, or whatever ecosystem is affected. It is we humans who struggle with the impacts. 

Ironically, just three days after I published that Post an EF2 tornado raced across the north side of Oak Mountain State Park (Pelham, AL). I visited the Park April 14-16 2021, just a couple of weeks after the tornado. The first afternoon my hosts took me to the Park’s north side, beyond the road closure signs, to view tornado damage.

Here are six photos taken by Park Superintendent Kelly Ezell March 26. The twister mowed the forest along the lakeshore.

Oak Mountain

 

Some areas appeared to have had their tops snapped at the base of the live crown.

Oak Mountain

 

The storm just grazed this shoreline before rushing northeastward just offshore.

Oak Mountain

 

Park crews were just beginning to reopen the road when Kelly snapped this photo (below left) of jackstrawed trees. By the following day, the road reopened to Park crews (below right).

Oak Mountain

 

I took the remainder of the photographs April 14. Spring greens are more evident in ground vegetation and in the standing hardwoods below right.

Oak Mountain

 

Whether trees snapped or uprooted the net result is a forest that must make a new beginning. The tornado did not destroy the forest. Instead, Nature has given the affected forest ecosystem a chance to renew…naturally renew.

Oak Mountain

 

The tornado moved away from the camera grazing the shoreline. Spring green-up is already masking evidence of its passing. The photo below right is the opposite shore. I saw no evidence of damage just those one hundred yards away.

Oak Mountain

 

The storm totaled several Park buildings, including a staff residence, near where Kelly and I snapped our photos. Sufficient advance warning allowed all staff to seek shelter at a safe central location. Fortunately no staff nor visitors suffered physical harm.

As a career-long forest ecologist, I will say quite confidently that the forest ecosystem suffered no permanent injury. Yes, individual trees were snapped or blown over. However, our forests are resilient. Seed stored in the forest litter seedbank will germinate. Many of our native hardwood species will sprout vegetatively from stumps or roots. Non-tree woody species will flourish with the light that will now reach the forest floor. Our native forests have been responding to natural forest disturbance as long as there have been forests. Nature knows change and disruption. She will not miss a beat.

 

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reactions to visiting the recent tornado track:

  • Natural disturbance is the norm in our forests.
  • Our forest ecosystems are hard-wired to recover from fire, ice, drought, and wind (even tornadic winds).
  • Every major disturbance is an opportunity for forest renewal. 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

 

Oak Mountain State Park April Wildflowers

I enjoyed three half-day hikes at Oak Mountain State Park April 14-16, 2021. This is the third Post from those hiking excursions. The other two are:

Fifty Shades of Green — http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/04/27/fifty-shades-of-april-green-at-oak-mountain-state-park/

Important State Park System Announcement — http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/05/04/governor-kay-iveys-exciting-april-2021-state-park-system-announcement-at-oak-mountain-state-park/

This Post catalogs the variety of spring ephemerals and woody plants in flower that I encountered while hiking incredible wooded trails like this one.

Oak Mountain

Spring Ephemerals

I won’t spoil these lovely spring wildflower photographs with my ecologist’s ramblings and pontifications, although my inclination is to observe, reflect, and explain. This time, I pledge to resist temptation and provide little more than name, rank, and serial number for each of these woodland beauties.

Hairy Phlox (Phlox amoena) and Lobed Tickseed (Coreopsis auriculata)

Oak Mountain

 

 

Southern Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis stricta) and American Alumroot (Heuchera americana). I love the alumroot’s beautifully variegated leaves.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata), an exquisite beauty unto itself!

Oak Mountain

 

 

Rattlesnakeweed (Hieracium venosum), with its own deeply variegated leaves!

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

Candyroot (Polygala nana) and Birds Foot Violet (Viola pedata). I found the Candyroot in an area prescribe-burned several weeks prior.

Oak Mountain

 

 

 

 

 

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Oak Mountain

 

Firepink (Silene virginica) and (poison ivy; Toxicodendron radicans). I decided to dub the right image as Beauty-and-the-Beast. Firepink is one of my favorites (Beauty) and because I am quite sensitive to poison ivy I consider it The Beast.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

 

 

Plantain-Leafed Pusseytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia)

Oak Mountain

 

Woody Flowering Plants

The spring ephemerals above are not woody. They flourish and bloom before the overstory hardwoods foliate, blocking sun from the forest floor. Their growing season often begins well before last frost and end by the close of May. Grancy Greybeard (Chionanthus virginicus) was in full glory. I found Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) at the overlook ledge on Shackelford Ridge.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Likewise, I encountered Rusty Blackhaw (Viburnum rufidulum) along the ridge. I do not recall ever seeing this species so robustly flowering.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

Perhaps my favorite among all spring wildflowers, Mountain Azalea (Rhododendron canescens), greeted me along nearly every trail I wandered.

Oak Mountain

 

Spring wildflowers warm my heart. I’ve been an addict since spring semester of my freshman year in western Maryland, when Dr. Glenn O. Workman led his systematic botany charges in relentless pursuit of ephemerals from elevations of just 650 feet along the Potomac River to upwards of 3,000 feet at the Allegany Front. Although Doc is now into his 90s, we remain in touch…and, I still consider him one of my mentors and heroes. Judy and I perhaps ten years ago established a scholarship in his name at Allegany College of Maryland, where he taught and also coached tennis.

Alabama State Parks Foundation

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections from my recent spring wildflower hikes of discovery at Oak Mountain State Park:

  • The magic of spring wildflowers never wanes.
  • In fact, my appreciation sharpens every spring.
  • Borrowing from Muir, “And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” 

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.

 

 

 

Governor Kay Ivey’s Exciting April 2021 State Park System Announcement at Oak Mountain State Park

I retired full time to Madison, AL January 2018, following 12 years (1973-1985) practicing forestry with a Fortune 500 paper and allied forest products manufacturing company and 33 years serving nine universities. I recall saying during the heart of my career that I just could not imagine ever retiring. I admit to some serious adjustment during the first few months after letting go. However, I have found rewarding, satisfying, and fulfilling pursuits related to my passion for Nature-Inspired Life and Living, to include researching, writing, and publishing these Posts. Also high among those pursuits is participating as a Charter Board Member of the Alabama State Parks Foundation.

I visited Oak Mountain State Park April 14-16 to attend the Alabama State Parks Foundation Board spring meeting and to be there for Governor Ivey’s address at the Park Pavilion (And, to enjoy three half-day hikes!). I decided upon my Board appointment to never attend a Park-located Foundation Board meeting without planning an extra day or two to explore that Park. I hiked to Indian Overlook on Shackleford Ridge the morning after the Board meeting (photo below).

 

 

My April 27, 2021 Post (http://stevejonesgbh.com/2021/04/27/fifty-shades-of-april-green-at-oak-mountain-state-park/) highlighted the magic of the Park’s fifty-shades-of-green spring forest palette. I am focusing today’s Post on other than my ancillary hikes and explorations. I will expand with photos and reflections on the natural wonders with subsequent Posts.

Today I offer the essence of Governor Ivey and the State Legislature’s Commitment to Alabama’s State Parks, and the extraordinary economic, social, and environmental benefits they provide to our State and its citizens. Governor Ivey made her remarks at the main pavilion near Park headquarters mid-morning April 15. The setting could not have been more grand. Partly cloudy, comfortable breeze, open water, and fifty shades of spring green.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

I urge you to view Gov Ivey’s four-minute video announcement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTAGBP6zSUI

All of us on the Board rejoiced. The news was everything we had anticipated relative to memorializing the productive partnership involving the Parks, our Foundation, and private enterprise… and more. The more is summarized below.

A Montgomery newspaper article provided a written summary: “A constitutional amendment that would allow the state to borrow $80 million to improve state parks passed its first vote in the Alabama Legislature on Wednesday.

Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Commissioner Christopher Blankenship told Alabama Daily News that the bonds would be used to expand and improve campgrounds and recreational areas.

“As we’ve seen this past year with COVID, state parks and outdoor recreation have been extremely important to people for their physical and mental health,” Blankenship said. “We saw great increases in usage at our parks, and also the federal wild properties in the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.”

Blankenship told the Senate and House General Fund budget committees on Wednesday that attendance was up about 1.2 million for a total of 6.2 million visitors to state parks last year.

Alabama voters approved a $110 million bond issue in 1998 to help improve state parks and historical sites. House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, says now that that bond issue is almost paid off, the state can enter into this new one.

“Because interest rates are so low today, we’re able to use the same amount that we’re paying out now, redo new bonds and put $80 million into the existing parks, which is going to be a tremendous asset to our state and to our tourism and across our state,” Ledbetter told ADN.

House bills 565 and 573 are the constitutional amendment and enabling legislation sponsored by Ledbetter. They passed the committee on Wednesday with no opposition. The Senate bills, 362 and 383, also passed committee with no opposition.

Sen. Clay Scofield, R-Guntersville, sponsors the Senate version of the plan, which has 24 co-sponsors. He said the bond issue is about making the parks self-sufficient and providing amenities that will give a return on investment.

“We feel as though making these investments will lead to even more improvements that can be made in a quicker amount of time and will bring in even more visitors and more money to the parks so that they can continue to do that over and over,” Scofield told ADN.

An amendment was added to both House and Senate bills that would allow any potential overage on the bond issue to go to various properties operated by the Alabama Forestry Commission.

A fiscal note on the bill says the bond issue would increase General Fund spending by about $5.5 million per year for 20 years, but House General Fund Chairman Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, explained that it really isn’t an increase since it is replacing the bond issue that has now been paid out.

A brochure provided by the ADCNR  (https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/review?uri=urn:aaid:scds:US:a5c6edd8-9589-4c90-be7d-14df0bcdb513#pageNum=1) lists their renovation plans, which include expanding campgrounds, modernizing day-use areas, adding cabins or swimming pools and providing internet connectivity to overnight accommodations.

Blankenship said the renovations will provide capabilities for modern-day desires.

“To bring them up to a standard that people have come to expect now and as the landscape is changing with motor homes and they’re becoming more advanced and require more from our campgrounds,” Blankenship said.

State parks are not funded by the State General Fund, but rather through fees. They generate 80-90% of their revenue directly through entrance, rental, lodging, golf and other recreational fees.

From 2011-2015, around $15 million was transferred from the parks budget to the state general fund and in 2015, five state parks had to shut down due to lack of funds.

In 2016 Alabama voters approved a constitutional amendment that would prevent future reallocating of state park funds for other uses in the state’s budgets.

Scofield said in committee that the amendment passed in 2016 has helped with maintenance costs of the parks but is not able to provide the necessary funds to make the renovations they want to make in a quick enough manner.

“Money is staying in the parks system but it is just slower than anticipated,” Scofield said.

There are 21 state parks in Alabama that have an estimated $375 million economic impact for the state, according to the ADCNR brochure.

If the constitutional amendment is passed by both chambers then Alabama voters will likely vote on it in the 2022 election.

Scofield, who has three state parks in his district, said his constituents support improving the parks and he believes Alabama voters will approve the bond issue easily.

“Our parks play an important role in making sure that we are providing outdoor activities for the citizens of Alabama, even though you might not have a state park located in your area, doesn’t mean that there isn’t one near for a day trip,” Scofield said.

Since it’s a constitutional amendment, Gov. Kay Ivey does not have to sign off on the bill. However, Ivey Press Secretary Gina Maiola told ADN that Ivey supports the initiative.”

Urgent Update to this Post: Commissioner Blankenship communicated this message to the Foundation Board May 5, 2021:

Last week, the Alabama Legislature passed a bill that will put a proposed Constitutional Amendment on the ballot that would allow the state to sell up to $80 million in bonds for renovation, acquisition and capital improvements for Alabama State Parks under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This CA will be on the ballot for the statewide primary in May 2022. I am very excited about this step in our plan. I would like to thank Speaker McCutcheon, Senate Pro Tem Greg Reed, House Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter and Senate Majority Leader Clay Scofield for championing the State Parks and effectively shepherding this legislation through the process.

A companion bill was also passed that will increase funds we receive for general maintenance from $5 million annually to $7 million annually with a CPI adjustment every year. 

The bond projects coupled with the private partnerships forged through the ASP Foundations Capital Campaign that we kicked off on April 15 with Governor Ivey, Buffalo Rock and the Alabama Power Foundation, position us for a great deal of important work to make our Alabama State Parks first class!

As a Board member, citizen of Alabama, and a lifelong Earth Stewardship enthusiast I am thrilled that our State Parks System is poised to elevate its commitment to and practice of conservation, Nature-based recreation, and environmental education. I am overjoyed that Foundation Board Founding Chair, Dr. Dan Hendricks (below), invited me to join the then-fledgling Board.

Oak Mountain

 

I commend and salute Dan, Park System Director Greg Lein (below left), and Commissioner Chris Blankenship (below right) for their extraordinary leadership, vision, and dedication to the cause.

Park System Commitment to Education

The Park System Mission is succinct and powerful:

To acquire and preserve natural areas; to develop, furnish, operate and maintain recreational facilities; and to extend the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment.

I love all facets of the mission, but I must admit to deepest passion for the education element. Environmental education fits hand-in-glove with my personal retirement mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship. That is what motivates my weekly Posts on Nature-Inspired Life and Living.

I hope my efforts have played some small role in the System’s commitment to expanding and strengthening its education mission. I learn a great deal interacting with our Park Naturalists. I hiked the afternoon of April 14 upon my arrival, and then several more hours on the trails after the April 15 Board meeting with Oak Mountain Naturalist Lauren Muncher (below right) and Central District Environmental Educator Scottie Jackson (left). Scottie has broad responsibility for education at Oak Mountain, Cheaha, and Wind Creek. The Central District position is new, as is having an environmental educator (Scottie) assigned to Wind Creek.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

We also now have an environmental educator assigned for the first time to Joe Wheeler State Park, and the search for a first time Naturalist position at Monte Sano State Park is underway.

Lauren and Scottie bring unbridled enthusiasm, passion, and good humor to extending the public’s knowledge of the state’s natural environment. Both are committed to the task, creative, and eager to learn. We spent time together on-site in the spirit of learning and in challenging each other to imagine new ways of spreading the gospel of informed and responsible stewardship of our corner of this pale blue orb. I am buoyed by both the act of expanding environmental education staff… and by the quality of personnel.

Oak MountainOak Mountain

 

I found it fitting that Lauren and Scottie paused (and posed) standing atop a Civilian Conservation Corps culvert constructed in the 1930s. They know and understand that human and natural history are intertwined on all 21 Alabama State Parks and across the entire 48,000-acre Park System. They appreciate that the results of their efforts will reach across the next eight decades and beyond. They want to…and will…make a difference. I applaud their zeal to touch the future!

Oak Mountain

 

Nature inspires, even as it humbles. Whether the view from atop Shackleford Ridge (beginning of this Post) or the serene image from the front porch of the cabin where I stayed on the Park’s Tranquility Lake (below), Nature is an elixir that stirs my soul. And, a salve that brings greater meaning to my life.

Oak Mountain

 

And, when I contemplate the people of vision and passion who established the Alabama State Park System decades ago, or consider today’s leaders and educators who are lighting the torch for the next century, I am humbled. Humbled…and happy…to play some small role. To influence stewardship of some corner of this world through wisdom, knowledge, and hard work.

 

Alabama State Park Foundation Board

 

Thoughts and Reflections

 

I offer these reflections:

  • Our Parks are treasures… returning economic, recreation, and environmental benefits.
  • I celebrate our State’s commitment to responsible and informed Earth Stewardship.
  • Hats-off to Park System leadership for strengthening environmental education.

Inhale and absorb Nature’s elixir. May Nature Inspire, Inform, and Reward you!

 

Note: All blog post images created & photographed by Stephen B. Jones unless otherwise noted. Please circulate images with photo credit: “©2021 Steve Jones, Great Blue Heron LLC. All Rights Reserved.”

Another Note: If you came to this post via a Facebook posting or by an another route, please sign up now (no cost… no obligation) to receive my Blog Post email alerts: http://eepurl.com/cKLJdL

And a Third: I am available for Nature-Inspired Speaking, Writing, and Consulting — contact me at steve.jones.0524@gmail.com

 

Reminder of my Personal and Professional Purpose, Passion, and Cause

If only more of us viewed our precious environment through the filters I employ. If only my mission and vision could be multiplied untold orders of magnitude:

Mission: Employ writing and speaking to educate, inspire, and enable readers and listeners to understand, appreciate, and enjoy Nature… and accept and practice Earth Stewardship.

Vision:

  • People of all ages will pay greater attention to and engage more regularly with Nature… and will accept and practice informed and responsible Earth Stewardship.
  • They will see their relationship to our natural world with new eyes… and will understand more clearly their Earth home.

Tagline/Motto: Steve (Great Blue Heron) encourages and seeks a better tomorrow through Nature-Inspired Living!

 

Steve’s Three Books

I wrote my books Nature Based Leadership (2016), Nature-Inspired Learning and Leading (2017), and Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits: Stories of Passion for Place and Everyday Nature (2019; co-authored with Dr. Jennifer Wilhoit) to encourage all citizens to recognize and appreciate that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or is powerfully inspired by Nature.

I began writing books and Posts for several reasons:

  • I love hiking and exploring in Nature
  • I see images I want to (and do) capture with my trusty iPhone camera
  • I enjoy explaining those images — an educator at heart
  • I don’t play golf!
  • I actually do love writing — it’s the hobby I never needed when my career consumed me
  • Judy suggested my writing is in large measure my legacy to our two kids, our five grand kids, and all the unborn generations beyond
  • And finally, perhaps my books and Blogs could reach beyond family and touch a few other lives… sow some seeds for the future

Steve's BooksOak Mountain

 

All three of my books (Nature Based LeadershipNature-Inspired Learning and LeadingWeaned Seals and Snowy Summits) present compilations of personal experiences expressing my (and co-author Dr. Wilhoit for Weaned Seals and Snowy Summits) deep passion for Nature. All three books offer observations and reflections on my relationship to the natural world… and the broader implications for society. Order any and all from your local indie bookstore, or find them on IndieBound or other online sources such as Amazon and LifeRich.