Preserving Community Commitment
- Published: Tuesday, 01 April 2008 08:00
Blue Springs Nature Preserve is a haven for nature lovers that opened officially in November 2007. The site is tucked away at the junction of Trout Creek and Blues Springs Fork in Ragland, Ala. The site includes pastures, wetlands and heavily wooded areas.
The nature preserve is the result of a public-private collaboration between National Cement, citizens and elected officials of Ragland and St. Clair County. National Cement donated the 147-acre parcel of property. Because it is unsuitable for mining, the company chose to preserve the land when the need arose to mitigate wetlands during a business expansion. National Cement President Spencer Weitman says this is an opportunity to enhance the quality of life and provide value for citizens and visitors to the surrounding area through the creation of a nature preserve.
ìThe overall goal for Blue Springs Nature Preserve is to create a place that people will enjoy and that will benefit the Ragland community and St. Clair County for many years to come by increasing recreation, tourism and travel,î Weitman says. ìThis area is a well kept secret that we want to share with others so that they too can enjoy the natural beauty of the region.î
National Cement also donated approximately $250,000 to purchase seeds for development of the preserve as a 501C 3 non-profit organization. The money comes from the company's sale of land to St. Clair County for use by the Coosa Valley Water Supply District, which will be the site of a surface water treatment plant. This venture is an example of how private and public entities can join together to benefit the community.
A steering committee is guiding development of the nature preserve. It is comprised of educators, National Cement employees, union representatives, community leaders, environmentalists and elected officials. The steering committee meets on a regular basis to discuss planning and operational needs for the nature preserve. Additionally, National Cement is working with the St. Clair County office of Economic Development to explore and develop additional sources of funding from private and public sources.
Plans for educational opportunities are in the works, including hands-on teaching, field and laboratory experience for students in the St. Clair County area. Students will gain a better understanding of the environment, ecosystems and wise management of natural resources. Historical exhibits being considered for the preserve include a log house from the 1840s that will demonstrate and educate visitors on the history of the region. Additional park uses may include guided and unguided nature walks following a number of trails that would be routed to include specific interests.
Ecotourism efforts may be realized as visitors to the area enjoy and participate in outdoor activities including bird watching, trail hiking, nature study and picnicking while minimizing impact to the environment and increasing local economic returns. According to a recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife survey, Alabamians spent $2.3 billion on ecotourism (including bird and wildlife watching and outdoor recreation) in 2004.
The first known settlers on the land were recorded in 1822, possibly drawn by Trout Creek, an area rich in fish and wild game. According to historian Rubye Sisson, coal-mining and railroads brought more people to the bustling community. It was later incorporated as Ragland in 1899. And, in 1908, the company now known as National Cement Co. began construction on its plant.
Davis Charlie Grant was one of the first recorded landowners on site, having purchased a tract in Ragland in 1930. The family raised corn, cotton, peanuts, cattle, hogs and chicken. His grandson, Charlie Brannon, grew up exploring the land, fishing and canoeing in the creeks, and hunting. His family sold the land to National Cement in the 1970s.