"Nature is man’s teacher. She unfolds her treasures to his search, unseals his eyes, illumes his mind, and purifies his heart; an influence breathes from all the sights and sounds of her existence." –Alfred Billings Street
One trip down Interstate 65 from Birmingham to Montgomery and it won’t take long to realize Central Alabama is, in many ways, the state’s metropolitan "Mecca." But just a few turns off Exit 179 and you’ll find a safe-haven for some of Alabama’s most prized natural treasures.
Lanark, located just outside of Millbrook, is home to the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) and the Alabama Nature Center along with countless other plants and creatures so beautiful they can soften even the toughest of critics.
Lanark began as a simple cabin built in 1827 and was passed down several times over its existence. As the property changed ownership, it was expanded and improved, developing the property into the breath-taking spectacle it is today. In 2001, the property’s final owner passed away and the 300-plus acreage complete with two historic homes and heirloom gardens was left to the AWF, the state’s oldest and largest non-profit conservation organization.
The AWF sponsors many educational, stewardship, and hunting and angling programs and projects. Some of its conservation education programs include the AWF William R. Ireland, Sr. Youth Wildlife Art Contest; Alabama Outdoor Classroom Program; Discovering Our Heritage Program; and the Alabama Nature Center (ANC). ANC has been quite an undertaking for AWF and the staff at Lanark, but their hard work has paid off and promises many exciting additions for the future.
The ANC at Lanark holds five miles of trails and boardwalks that wind and wander through 300-plus acres of woodlands, fields, ponds, streams and wetlands which are divided into three regions.
Hilltop Pass is known as the "high-ground" region at ANC. Trails throughout this beautifully-wooded area climb along ridges and mountainsides, ranging in various levels of difficulty and carry visitors to the highest peak at Lanark, 360 feet above sea level.
Still Creek Run, an area of much lower elevation, is the lowest part of the property at Lanark. Its trails travel along Still Creek and over Cypress Creek all the while weaving in and out of beautiful trees and plants, and even showcasing Bullfrog Pond which is nestled amongst tall hardwoods and an overflow of hydrangeas.
The "middle ground" of Lanark is called Turkey Ridge and although it starts at an elevation to neither extreme of Hilltop Pass or of Still Creek Run, it does noticeably increase in elevation as the trail meanders to the top of the ridge. From the seasonal wetlands of Gum Pond, to the ideal amphibian habitat of Natural Spring, to the peacefully-flowing waters of Cane Creek, Turkey Ridge is a must-see region of Lanark.
The nature trails of Lanark are just the first plans for the ANC the Federation has completed. Plans for a new state-of-the-art nature center facility are already underway and include a 2,500 square-foot, hands-on Discovery Hall, a 240-seat theater and auditorium complex, a gift shop, and library all charmingly constructed on the serene nature trails of Lanark.
Lanark Field Days are one of AWF’s most recent educational endeavors. These field days give Alabama schools the opportunity to explore the grounds at Lanark while participating in hands-on activities addressing a number of wildlife and natural resource-related topics. These activities appropriately address many Course of Study Objectives of the Alabama Department of Education and include topics like Alabama Cultural and Natural History, The Role of Conservation, Non-Native Alabama Plants, Alabama Forests, Water Problems, and Characteristics of Alabama Wildlife. Other special activities available are Birdhouse Constructing and a Nature Scavenger Hunt.
Resource Stewardship is another topic of much importance to AWF. Through a variety of programs, seminars and writings like Land Stewardship Assistance, Managing Wildlife book, Alabama Black Bear Alliance and Wildlife Seminar Series, AWF is helping teach Alabama citizens the "ins and outs" of land management and helping preserve the very foundation of our great state—it’s wildlife and natural resources.
Hunting and fishing are much-loved pastimes of many Alabamians and efforts by AWF are creating new and exciting ways to apply the skills of avid outdoorsmen and women. Activities like AWF Youth Fishing Rodeo, AWF Wild Game Cook-Off and AWF Outdoor Women’s Network are providing men, women, boys and girls opportunities to keep Alabama’s hunting and angling heritage thriving.
But if you’re not an outdoor enthusiast, don’t worry— the historic homes and heirloom gardens of Lanark may spark your interest. While the property was passed to many different individuals over the years, it eventually fell into the hands of Wiley and Isabel Hill in 1948. Although the original plantation home was already built, they constructed a new home in a cornfield just across a stream from the original homeplace. Wiley and Isabel had quite the "green thumbs" and created one of the state’s most beautiful gardens. Through their passion for gardening and talents in grafting and propagating, they meticulously planted 30 acres of Lanark with daffodils, hydrangeas, camellias, lilies and azaleas just to name a few. Although Wiley and Isabel have passed, the AWF and staff at Lanark are dedicated to preserving the legacy of their hard work by maintaining the gardens just as they desired.
AWF’s philosophy states "AWF believes that the natural resources of our state are of both economic and social value which must be guarded, perpetuated, and restored for prosperity…" One trip to Lanark and visitors can see AWF is standing true to their promise of guarding, perpetuating and restoring Alabama’s most precious natural resources.
For more information, visit www.alabamawildlife.org.
Grace Smith is an associate editor for AFC Cooperative Farming News.