Alabama Rivers Educator Workshop @ Cheaha State Park

In 2019, we facilitated several AL Rivers Educator Workshops, based on the book, Alabama Rivers: A Celebration & Challenge by Dr. Bill Deutsch, funded by the Alabama Bicentennial Commission.

Due to the high interest in the workshops, we were able to secure funding for more workshops and a second edition of the Educator’s Guide to Alabama Rivers curriculum from MidSouth RC&D. Unfortunately, the three workshops planned in 2020 had to be cancelled due to COVID. Needless to say, we were so excited to be back at it again with an Alabama Rivers Educator Workshop at Cheaha State Park on October 2!

Dr. Deutsch introduces the lesson, “Springs, Spirits, and Spas” prior to the afternoon hike.
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All About the Tennessee River Basin

The Tennessee River begins at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers near Knoxville, Tennessee. It then bends south out of the Appalachian Mountains, cuts across the northern quarter of Alabama and turns north to join the Ohio River in Kentucky.

The mainstem of the Tennessee is over 650 miles long and 17% of the river is in Alabama. The Tennessee Basin encompasses 40,900 square miles.

Map Credit: Sydney Zinner
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How We Kept Sane During COVID-19 Sheltering In

By: James and Peggy Lowery of Birmingham, Alabama

Shades Creek. Photo Credit: James & Peggy Lowery

When the need to “shelter in” at home became apparent at the beginning of March 2020 due to the spread of COVID-19, we decided that we needed something that would “get us out of the house” on a regular basis to help us “keep our sanity” while at the same time staying away from other people.

Because we love to be around water and to do things like Alabama Water Watch monitoring, we decided that we would try to walk along some kind of waterbody every day that we could, weather permitting.  We held to that goal as much as possible, and it really helped us during the year-and-a-half that we have been staying at home so much.

Litter collected along Watkins Brook (a tributary of Shades Creek) beside Mountain Brook Elementary School. Photo Credit: James & Peggy Lowery

It did not matter what type of waterbody we walked beside as long as we could see or hear the water.  Places we walked beside included streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, ponds, wetlands, etc.  We found that, for our sanity, walking beside a waterbody was better than walking a trail that had no water beside it.  Of course, walking in the woods or forests is good and beneficial, but, for our purposes, the water made the difference.

Dragging double-walled bubble wrap from Shades Creek. Note the two prolific invasive species, kudzu and Japanese hops, growing along the banks. Photo Credit: James & Peggy Lowery

In addition to helping us “keep our sanity” during our “sheltering in” time, there are other ways that it has been beneficial for us.  We have found (discovered) new trails and places to walk beside water, some of which we had no idea were there or would not have thought about walking such as McCallum Park in Vestavia, two parks in Leeds, Veterans Park in Hoover, Chief Billy Hewitt Park in Tarrant.  We had driven by some of the places in the past but had never thought to stop and walk along the water there.  As our “water walking plan” moved along, we specifically tried to find trails or waterbodies to walk along that we had not previously known about.

The Lowery’s brought along their grandson for an excursion along Scott’s Branch (an urban tributary of Shades Creek) in a city park in west Homewood. Photo Credit: James & Peggy Lowery

Sometimes, after we water tested at our regular Water Watch site, we would then walk along the creek, which we had not done much in the past.  Another benefit was that many times we observed changes in the creek upstream or downstream as we walked that we would not have seen if we had just water tested then left the site.  On our walks along the waterbodies, we saw aquatic birds, fish, tadpoles, and turtles in places where we would not have thought they would be in the urban environment.

What about now that we are vaccinated and will not be “sheltering in” as much?  We have continued, and plan to continue, walking beside a waterbody as often as possible.  So, did it help us “keep our sanity”?  Only others around us can determine that!  We think it helped!

A logjam filled with trash found a few years ago in Shades Creek downstream of Bessemer. Photo Credit: Michelle Blackwood.

USFS Phase II Kick-off

USFS CitSci Fund Phase II Talladega Field Day Participants at the Cheaha State Park Interpretive Center. Photo Credit: Mona Dominguez

In 2021, AWW’s partnership with the USDA Forest Service (USFS) CitSci Fund expanded to the Talladega National Forest! The partnership began in 2019 and, in early 2020, AWW and USFS co-hosted water quality monitoring workshops in the Bankhead, Conecuh, and Tuskegee National Forests. These three workshops resulted in 77 volunteers trained as citizen scientists, 15 active volunteer monitors, and 19 sites sampled on 10 different waterbodies. Nearly 18 months later, 250+ data records have been received. More detail about sites and workshops is published on the Project’s StoryMap.

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