The Conecuh River is a 230-mile long river in the Coastal Plain that covers nine Alabama counties. Its headwaters begin in Bullock County near the town of Union Springs. Once the river crosses the state line into Florida, it is called the Escambia River where it ultimately drains into the Escambia Bay near Pensacola.
The Conecuh is the largest of the Coastal Plain rivers in Alabama.
Much of the Conecuh and its tributaries can be characterized as slowly meandering, soft-bottomed streams with slightly acidic water due to a high level of tannins from decomposing plant material. These same tannins are what gives the water a “tea” or dark brown color that is often called “blackwater“. There are also numerous springs in the basin, due to the sandy subsoils and surface-to-groundwater connectivity.
Historically, much of the upland portion of the Conecuh Basin was longleaf pine savanna. Due to aggressive logging practices in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, the vast majority of old-growth longleaf pine was cut for timber.
The USDA Forest Service’s Conecuh National Forest falls within the Conecuh River Basin. The Forest was established in 1936 and encompasses 84,000 acres between Andalusia, AL and the Florida state line. Since the turn of the 21st century, Forest priorities have focused on restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem and habitat enhancement for the red-cockaded woodpecker. Beginning in 2010, the USDA Forest Service, AL Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Orianne Society, Zoo Atlanta, and Auburn University have collaborated as part of the Eastern Indigo Snake Re-introduction Project in the Conecuh National Forest. The Eastern indigo snake is the longest snake native to North America (it can reach lengths greater than 8 feet!) and has been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act since 1978.
A special type of upland depressional wetland, known as a Citronelle pond, is found within the Conecuh River Basin. They are typically filled with water in the winter and spring and experience frequent drying out with little to no connection with other surface waters. Although the origin of Citronelle ponds is still debated, they are only known to occur in parts of Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi.
The predominant trees found in and near Citronelle ponds are pond cypress and swamp tupelo. Fish are noticeably absent from these ponds, likely due to frequent drying. As is the case for most embedded wetlands, Citronelle ponds are important sites for amphibian breeding. Unfortunately, most Citronelle ponds have been destroyed or severely altered due to farming in the Coastal Plain.
NOTABLE TRIBUTARIES, EVENTS & PEOPLE
The March 1929 Flood was the first time in U.S. history that military aircraft were mobilized for civilian emergency aid. Between March 13-15, 1929, the town of Evergreen received over 19 inches of run, causing the Conecuh and other surrounding rivers and tributaries to flood excessively. Thousands of people were stranded on rooftops, highways, bridges, and railroads were washed away, and all communication lines went down. Maxwell Field, a United States Army Air Corps facility at that time in Montgomery, sent aircraft to observe conditions and airdropped food and supplies to the Red Cross during the relief effort.
Battle of Burnt Corn Creek
The Battle of Burnt Corn Creek occurred on July 7, 1813 on a bend of the Burnt Corn Creek. It is oftentimes noted as the first true battle of the Creek War of 1813-1814. This battle resulted in the Red Stick faction of the Creeks defeating the aggressor: the Washington County militia led by Col. James Caller. The Red Sticks staged a retaliatory raid on Fort Mims in late August of 1813 as a result known as the “Fort Mims Massacre“.
Murder Creek is a small stream flowing between the two towns of Brewton and East Brewton, previously known as Aloochahatcha (Luko Hatchee) Creek. According to Colonel A. J. Pickett (History of Alabama, 1851) , Murder Creek, got its name from a “bloody tragedy enacted upon its banks in 1788.” Colonel Kirkland of South Carolina, along with the majority of his men were robbed and killed by a group of outlaws on their way to Pensacola to procure passports to settle in the then-Spanish province of Louisiana. Following their attack, the murderous outlaws proceeded to spend the night on the banks of the creek next to the carnage and bodies of their making.
Hank Williams, the famous country singer-songwriter, was born in the Conecuh Basin in the town of Mount Olive. Williams began his short, but extremely influential career in Montgomery, AL.
The Conecuh River is home to 84 freshwater fish species. Some fish you may encounter in the basin include the pirate perch, speckled madtom, ironcolor shiner, Gulf sturgeon, American eel, bowfin, blacktail redhorse, striped mullet, coastal darter, harlequin darter, and the saddleback darter.
The Escambia Map Turtle is another Conecuh Basin native that is only found in southern Alabama and western Florida. A unique attribute of this turtle species is the extreme degree of sexual dimorphism, or physical differences in size, shape, and general appearance, between the male and female. The female’s shell can grow to 11 inches, but males are substantially smaller, measuring in at a mere five inches of shell. Adult females have a huge head that appears disproportionate to their bodies, while the males retain a narrow, juvenile head. The male and young female Escambia map turtles eat aquatic insects, while the adult females eat almost exclusively bi-valve mussels using their massive head muscles.
The Alabama shad (Alosa alabamae) is a silver-colored fish with a greenish-blue back and clear fins. Adults grow to 12-18 inches, weighing 3-5 pounds. The Alabama shad is a member of the Clupeidae family which also includes herrings, sardines, and menhadens. The Alabama shade is anadromous, with the adults living in saltwater the majority of their lives, but migrating upstream into freshwater rivers to spawn in the March-April timeframe. Juveniles stay in freshwater their first 6-8 months of life. Populations have become increasingly rare largely due to locks and dams blocking access to up-river spawning grounds. It is listed by the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service as a species of special concern.
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