Most people have a soft spot for at least one tree. It might be a pine, an oak, or even a crepe myrtle. If you do, you have a lot in common with Janice Barrett – she’s just taken it a whole lot further! After becoming a mother in 1989, Janice realized how important it was to protect the world her son had been born into. In 1992, she became involved as a volunteer artist with the Bankhead Monitor, a non-profit educational conservation group, and has been working as a defender of the forests for nearly 30 years.
Bankhead Monitor would become Wild Alabama (WA); Barrett became WA’s Outreach Coordinator in 2001 and has held that position for two decades. She co-created Wild Alabama’s Helping Hands program, its Hikes Program, and its Volunteer Wilderness Ranger Program. She also created the Wild Wednesday Program, which takes kids and their families on guided hikes during summer months. Like acorns planted in one of her beloved forests, all of these programs are still growing strong. At its core, her work is about forest protection by the people, for the people. – Josh Levesque
Did you spend more time outside during childhood than most kids do today?
Yes, a lot more! In my family, staying indoors was not an option. I am the eldest of four sisters and we were raised free-range.
Is there anything that makes Alabama’s forests special?
Alabama is fourth in biodiversity of all 50 states, and some of our rivers are among the oldest rivers on earth. Geology and hydrology work together to create forests that are home to ancient species of trees such as the Eastern hemlocks and sweet birches found in the sandstone canyons of the Warrior Mountains of northwest Alabama.
Where should we go to experience the beauty of Alabama’s forests?
Go to any forest you can get to, and the wilder, the better. Alabama has 21 state parks and they all have hiking trails. From Bankhead in the north to Conecuh in the south, our National Forests all are treasures with places to hike and explore. Of course, our three federally designated wilderness areas, Cheaha, Sipsey and Dugger Mountain, are the crown jewels of our state.
How can I help my kids love the outdoors?
One big thing that keeps parents from taking their children into a forest is fear. We want to keep our children safe! The antidote to fear is knowledge. Learn how to be safe on a hike, learn how to be prepared and what to take with you. Once we are liberated from fear, we are free to allow our children to have their own relationships with nature. It is the best gift we can give our children.
For children who are not used to being outside much, start simply and make it fun. Take a walk on an easy trail, explore a creek. One of the purposes of Wild Alabama’s Wild Wednesday nature hikes for kids and families is to teach adults where they can take children and how to stay safe. Our children are the next generation of forest protectors. But first, they have to know them and love them.
How can I help protect my forests?
Protection is rooted in love, so find a forest to know and love. Learn everything you can about it and the natural history of it. Go on guided hikes or outings with a naturalist to learn more about your forest. Whatever forest you choose, pick out a single tree to visit when you go there. Forest protection starts for many of us as a personal relationship with a special place.
Voting is also an extremely important part of forest protection. Know candidates’ stance on environmental protection before you go to the polls to vote and support only those who are willing to stand up for the protection of our forests for our children. You can also join Wild Alabama! We are Alabama’s only non-profit public lands forest protection organization.
To learn more, visit WildAl.org.