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A New Stop on the North Alabama Birding Trail
August 1, 2013
By DAVID RAINER
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
The newest addition to the Northwest Loop of the North Alabama Birding Trail was unveiled recently, thanks to the generosity of Alabama State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow and his wife, Dr. Martha Morrow.
The Morrows’ property, Cypress Cove Farm, near Red Bay, Ala., becomes stop No. 51 on the North Alabama Birding Trail.
Mark Sasser, Nongame Wildlife Program Coordinator with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (WFF), said the North Alabama Birding Trail (NABT) was developed by WFF through grants and funds from the counties in north Alabama.
“When we started the North Alabama Birding Trail in 2002, for whatever reason, Franklin County was not included,” Sasser said. “About a year-and-a-half ago, Johnny Mack Morrow, state representative, called me and said, ‘We have a farm in Franklin County, and we would like to be added to the North Alabama Birding Trail.’ Because we needed sites in Franklin County, I went up and visited his farm and made some recommendations.
“Rep. Morrow had already done a whole lot. He had flooded some ponds for waterfowl and he had hiking trails. We recommended that he thin some timber stands to make it more open for wildlife. He’s developed even more trails. We provided information for interpretive panels and they put up those panels along the trails.”
The Morrows still live on the property and maintain all the trails and wildlife habitat enhancements.
“This is a working farm that the Morrows are basically giving to the public,” Sasser said. “It has bleachers and a pavilion. School groups come out and use it. It’s not a working farm in terms of agricultural crops. It’s a working farm in terms of wildlife and making it accessible for people to come out and enjoy the property. We just put a little icing on the cake by making it official.”
Rep. Morrow said an incident when he was about 12 years old determined his path as a wildlife conservationist. He was helping his father on their farm near Phil Campbell when he was instructed to dust a 15-acre cotton field for a boll weevil infestation.
“That night it came a huge, huge rain,” Morrow said. “I went down the next morning and in my favorite fishing hole, it looked like thousands of dead fish. I knew who had killed the fish. It was me.
“Standing on that creek bank that day, it was a moment in my life where I started looking at nature differently. I told God, ‘If you’ll give me the time and resources, I’ll try to undo this.’”
Morrow started with 46 acres and eventually ended up with the 250-acre Cypress Cove Farm.
“It’s been a long, hard, expensive journey,” he said. “But this is a very special place with three beautiful creeks. I’m just trying to enhance it so others can enjoy it.”
To be included in the North Alabama Birding Trail, sites have to meet certain criteria – birdwatching characteristics (probability of seeing birds); ecological significance with high-quality areas of significant habitat types; site resiliency as to the ability to withstand continual public use without damage to environmentally sensitive areas; physical and legal access to the general public on public and private lands; economic significance, which includes support from the local Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Visitors Bureau; maintenance support from the landowner on private land sites; and parking availability for vehicular access without endangerment.
Sasser said the economic impact of the NABT is hard to determine. The estimate for the entire U.S. is that more than 71 million people photographed, fed or observed wildlife in the most recent survey in 2011. Those people spent $40 billion while viewing wildlife.
“There’s no way to put numbers on it,” he said of Alabama’s birding trails. “We’ve gotten great reviews from people all over the country, but you can’t put numbers with it. We do have estimates that wildlife viewing in Alabama has an economic impact of $35 million-plus. The estimate is that the average person will spend $563, mostly on lodging, gas and merchandise, such as binoculars, books and merchandise authentic to the area visited. For every additional 1,000 visitors, that translates to a little more than a half-million in expenditures. You can see what that means to some of these communities that have been impacted by the economic downturn.”
Cypress Cove Farm features two wooded birding observation areas with three ponds and 10 nature trails that are a combined 8 miles long.
Tami Reist, President/CEO of the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, said the Morrows’ property fits perfectly with the objectives of the birding trail.
“Cypress Cove Farm shines as an example of a farm that has been converted to a site that is actively managed for wildlife and natural resource education,” Reist said.
The farm, located at 1895 Highway 28, Red Bay, AL 35582, is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with no admission fee. In Red Bay, from the junction of State Highways 19 and 24, take Highway 24 East for 1.6 miles; turn left on County Road 28/Mudd Creek Road. Go 1 mile to the Cypress Cove Farm parking lot on the west side of the road. GPS coordinates for Cypress Cove Farm are N 34.4588, W 88.1031.
Because the owners live on the site, Reist urges visitors to practice the appropriate courtesy and avoidance of private areas when touring the site. Group visits should be approved and coordinated through the Red Bay Parks and Recreation Department at 256-356-4473, extension 6.
The Morrows have converted existing farm structures into bird blinds and education facilities. Visitors can also learn about northwest Alabama’s agricultural history in the early 20th century: A working gristmill and antique tractors are on display. Blacksmithing demonstrations can be arranged for groups, and a replica of a circa-1900 saw mill is under construction. Future plans include an old-fashioned general store, a butterfly garden and a replica of a whiskey still.
Sasser said he hopes visitors will take advantage of the interpretive panels that have been erected along the Cypress Cove Farm trails.
“The interpretive panels will tell you all about the birds you might encounter at the farm,” Sasser said. “The panels also carry a conservation message about the benefits of habitat protection and wildlife conservation. The reason the interpretive panels are so important is that research has shown that more than 75 percent of nature travelers in the U.S. lack the basic knowledge of the natural world. We can’t emphasize enough the educational aspect of visiting and utilizing the 100-plus interpretive panels that are spread along the North Alabama Birding Trail.”
Visit http://www.alabamabirdingtrails.com/trails/north-alabama/ for more information on the trails in north Alabama. Alabama has six other birding trails. Visit http://outdooralabama.com/watchable-wildlife/Birds/birding-trails// for information and links to the various birding trails.
“The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources thanks the Morrows for opening up their farm and their hearts by giving back to their community and the state,” Sasser said.
PHOTOS: (Courtesy of Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association) Dr. Martha Morrow watches as her husband, Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, explains why Cypress Cove Farm is such a special place and why the couple wanted to share it with the public. The farm has numerous hiking trails, bird-viewing areas and habitats with interpretive panels.