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Land trust helps preserve north Alabama’s natural spaces

By Aaron Tanner

North central Alabama is a diverse natural area, with an abundance of caves, sinkholes and plants and wildlife unique to the region. But this part of the state has also rapidly exploded in population.

The Land Trust of North Alabama is a non-profit dedicated to conserving natural resources and preserving vulnerable land for people in the Tennessee Valley. Since the late 1980s, when the organization was formed to prevent the west side of Monte Sano Mountain near downtown Huntsville from being lost to sprawl, the Land Trust has preserved more than 7,000 acres of land in five counties throughout North Alabama, along with creating more than 70 miles of public trails.

“As our city grows, we need to be responsible about how we grow in order to save the beautiful natural spaces we have,” says Melanie Manson, marketing director for the Land Trust of North Alabama.

A portion of the acreage owned by Land Trust of North Alabama is held strictly for conservation value. But seven Land Trust preserves are open to the public, each offering unique natural features along with different amenities for people to enjoy. Currently there are seven nature preserves, all located in Madison County, owned by the Land Trust of North Alabama. Each preserve offers hiking trails with varying levels of difficulty.

These preserves receive visitors locally and from outside of North Alabama who are often unaware of the outdoor activities offered there. “North Alabama offers different terrain and unique natural features that can’t be found in other parts of the state,” Manson says.

Those who visit Land Trust public preserves can easily visit other nearby natural attractions, such as the Wheeler Wildlife Refuge, Monte Sano State Park and Bankhead National Forest.

To maintain the preserves, a land manager and two land stewards continually monitor Land Trust properties for problems, along with hundreds of local volunteers who pick up litter and build trails. Besides maintaining the properties, Land Trust staff and volunteers also host educational programs.

“The purpose is to see nature firsthand and hopefully better understand its value,” Manson says. Adults and children can participate in a hiking series each spring and fall while also learning about the history of the area.

Although having a Land Trust membership, which funds the maintenance of the properties, is not required to access the preserves, some perks of membership include discounted tickets to Land Trust events, discounts at local businesses and access to a smartphone app that tracks your location along the trails.

Yearly fundraisers are held at Three Caves on Monte Sano Nature Preserve, including a concert series in the summer and a dinner and auction event in September.

Several new projects are in the pipeline, including the opening of an eighth public preserve near Gurley and future plans to turn a donated former farm in Jackson County on Keel Mountain into a public preserve. 

The Land Trust is also partnering to build the Singing River Trail, an extensive regional walking and biking trail along the Tennessee River that will link communities in Madison, Limestone and Morgan counties.

Overall, Manson is pleased with the cooperation between the Land Trust and organizations at the local, regional and state levels to provide residents opportunities to participate in an active lifestyle by being out in nature. “We believe that if people explore the outdoors and experience nature, they will appreciate the importance of preserving it,” Manson says.

Land Trust Preserves are open from dawn until dusk daily and are free. Visit www.landtrustnal.org.