Monday, November 15, 2010

Current Conditions

Former OSM/Americorps/VISTA LIZ was the third year volunteer in CRS’s Sponsored Americorps Program.  For a year, beginning in the summer of 2006, Elizabeth was working in the lower basin on various projects addressing poverty and environmental concerns related to water in the lower Cahaba River Basin.  Community activities included eco-tourism and heritage tourism, Cahaba Canoe Trails (and web GIS interface), Blocton Coke Ovens Park Master Plan and clean up, Acid Mine Drainage testing and remediation planning, and Volunteer Days for active residents in the area.  Elizabeth was sponsored by the Cahaba River Authority, the Town of West Blocton, and Bibb County Citizens for Wildflowers.  Liz's experience with CRS and the people above, allowed her to get her current dream job as Watershed Organizer for the Alabama Rivers Alliance.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This year's Cahaba Lily Festival will be held on May 31, 2008 at the Cahaba Lily Building in downtown West Blocton and at the Cahaba River National Wildlife Refuge. The program begins at 9:00, ends with a home-made luncheon feast and moves to the River in the afternoon.

Keep your eyes out for the Friends of the Refuge's new walking trail! We've been working diligently to get it completed in time!

Click here for updated festival information:

Friday, January 4, 2008

Central Alabama community wants park at beehive coke oven site

Front Page of Birmingham News

Tuesday, January 01, 2008
News staff writer

WEST BLOCTON - Back in the 1880s, beehive coke ovens helped fuel a bustling steel industry in this Bibb County town.
Mayor Jabo Reese and volunteers with the Cahaba River Society want to transform the land where the ovens are situated into the West Blocton Beehive Coke Oven Park, which they hope will attract throngs of tourists.
The new park would incorporate the Cahaba Wildlife Refuge along the Cahaba River.
Reese envisions an attraction that would regularly bring motor homes full of visitors for a variety of events. Already the area has a strong draw with the annual Cahaba Lily Festival each May.
"We'd like to have flea markets and bluegrass music in the amphitheater," Reese said.
Complementing the more formal features of the park would be walking trails and picnic areas. The mayor said he envisions a family-oriented outdoor venue.
The park may also include panels displaying the history of the park and the town, how the beehive ovens work and the process of making coke.
West Blocton owns the land and began restoration efforts in 1996, establishing the West Blocton Coke Ovens Advisory Committee.
The site was cleared and restrooms were built. Then the project fizzled because of lack of funding and the deaths of a couple of key advocates in the community.
The current restoration effort is being led by Elizabeth Salter, an Americorps/VISTA volunteer with the Cahaba River Society.
"They placed me in the lower Cahaba River Basin. They wanted to see what the interests and needs of the people downriver were," she said.
Salter was studying acid mine drainage in 2006-07. That led her to the coke ovens site. She became fascinated with the ovens and launched a research effort that brought the project back to life.
With a $4,500 grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and National Endowment for the Arts, Salter began contacting former members of the advisory committee to discuss what was wanted and needed to get the park back on track.
Gresham Smith & Partners came up with a master plan for the project, doing most of the work pro bono, Salter said.
Money is a major hurdle for the town. However, with a master plan in hand, supporters of the park want to seek grants to help build it.
Beehive history:
The ovens in West Blocton were built by Truman Aldrich, who organized the Cahaba Coal Mine Co. in 1883 in Blocton. The town of West Blocton eventually grew up nearby. On the site, Aldrich built 467 ovens that produced 600 tons of coke a day.
"The heat was so intense that they only operated every other oven at a time," Salter said.
The beehive coke ovens draw their name from their shape. They operated at full strength only for about 20 years, but they were critical to the development of the iron and steel industry in the Birmingham area.
Coke is one of three ingredients needed to make pig iron, the source of steel. The other ingredients are limestone and iron ore. Coal was poured into the coke ovens and heated to 2,800 degrees to burn off the impurities, leaving coke, which is almost pure carbon.
"The inside of the ovens has a kind of honeycomb glaze to it from the heat. After it was heated, it was dragged out, quenched with water, then loaded back into rail cars," Salter said.
She said there were four such operations in the United States at the time, and only Pennsylvania produced more coke than Alabama.
Council member Myrtle Jones said a lot of the stones from the coke oven site were being hauled away for a construction project at Tannehill about 20 years ago. Local residents got interested in the ovens then and halted the removal.
"About 20 to 30 of them (the ovens) are relatively stable, in good condition," Salter said. "The ovens are about 5 feet deep, 8 feet by 8 feet in height and width. ... It's amazing how the bricks were put in place to build them. They are really intricately banked. You couldn't slide a piece of paper between the bricks. There are huge pines and hardwoods growing on top of them, and they haven't collapsed."
A limited budget:
While Salter is pursuing additional grants, Reese said the town, with its limited budget, is doing what it can to develop the park.
He said the town planned to start installing sewer lines in the area immediately. "Our employees are volunteering their weekends to do it," he said. "They're going to use city equipment and pipes, but they're putting all that in for nothing."
Reese said he is determined to complete the project.
"We gotta crawl before we walk," he said. "The bottom line is dollar bills."
E-mail: PARKXX -- PARK:
Town doing what it can

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Outreach: Resource Assistant

Resource Assistant
Series/Grade: GS-1101-6 *


The Talladega National Forest – Oakmulgee District is looking for a dynamic, energetic individual with strong organization and accounting skills, plus a love of the outdoors. The incumbent will join a highly motivated team of employees providing essential financial tracking and accountability services.
The incumbent will be responsible for the District’s timber statement of accounts program providing service to timber purchasers as well as District and Forest sales staff. In addition the incumbent will be responsible for data entry, tracking, and management of several accounts stemming from receipts returned to the Forest Service for specific tasks. Other duties will include small purchases of transactions less than $2,500; various fiscal support operations; files and records management;
developing written documents including official correspondence; communication with the public regarding District policy and procedures; and report compilation. Knowledge of, or the demonstrated ability to quickly learn, the various Forest Service corporate databases and management systems is required.
In addition to the database and accounting work, the incumbent will need to have a working knowledge of the resource management programs implemented by the Oakmulgee District. The incumbent will be called on to assist field-going staff with project level work. This work will require abilities to work outdoors in various conditions, as well as driving on gravel roads. Knowledge of GIS, GPS and orienteering will be an asset. The incumbent must have a strong desire to adapt current technologies, explore new methods, and expand partnerships in response to these challenges. Ability to work in a team environment with a focus on the whole is required.

The Oakmulgee District lies in west-central Alabama with nearby population centers including Tuscaloosa and Birmingham. West Alabama contains some of the state’s poorest counties, yet it hosts a reservoir of private citizens and public servants that are dedicated to responsible economic growth focusing on the areas of natural resources and cultural history. This provides the Oakmulgee with an array of partnership opportunities to help market its many resources and values. Conversely
partnerships with adjacent landowners, industry, and other land management agencies remain an untapped resource. The incumbent will be expected to play a supportive role in positioning the District for successful relationships within this unique landscape.

The District encompasses approximately 157,000 acres in six west-central Alabama counties. Currently about 18 District permanent employees provide stewardship responsibilities for these lands, with support and guidance from the Supervisor’s Office in Montgomery, AL. The Supervisor’s Office is approximately 1 ½ hours away and can be easily visited in a day. The Oakmulgee District Office is located at 9901 Highway 5, Brent AL, near the 4-way stop at the intersection of Highway 5 and University Highway. This is lease property and a new office will need to be secured within the next five years. The District work-center is less than five miles away located on Bear Creek road, just off Highway 5.

Housing: No government quarters are available.
Links: Additional information may be researched through the following web links:
The Bibb County Chamber of Commerce -
The Bibb County Industrial Development Authority -
The West Alabama Hunting & Fishing Trail -
Heritage and nature-based tourism -
West Alabama Chamber of Commerce -
Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources -
For additional information on duties and responsibilities, contact:
Cynthia Ragland, District Ranger -- 205-926-9765 (ext 226);

* This position description for this job has not yet been officially classified. The anticipated
series is 1101, however that could change.

Please respond to: Cynthia Ragland Phone: 205-926-9765 (ext 226)
9901 Highway 5 Fax: 205-926-9712
Brent, AL 35034
EMAIL ADDRESS:_______________________________________________
TELEPHONE NUMBER:_________________________________________________
CURRENT SERIES AND GRADE:_________________________________________
IF YES, CURRENT AGENCY AND LOCATION:____________________________
Please Respond By: November 23, 2007

Thank you for your interest!

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the
basis of race, color, national origin, gender, religion, age, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, or
marital or family status. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require
alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should
contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) 720-2600 (voice and TDD). To file a complaint of discrimination,
write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, 14th and Independence Avenue,
SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964 (voice and TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity
provider and employer.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Heritage Day at Payne Lake- from USFS

Saturday, October 13, 2007
1:30 PM—3:00 PM

Spillway Pavilion

Please join us for a fall afternoon by the lake. Documenting our heritage will help each of us re-connect to the land,and provide a template for helping future generations appreciate the rich heritage and culture of this area.

Attention all front porch historians, folklorists, genealogists, and those interested in how the land and the people came together to shape this place we call home!! There is an ongoing effort to have the Alabama Black Belt and surrounding lands designated as a National Heritage Area. To be included in this effort we are challenged to identify and research our local heritage, especially as it relates to the forest and nearby communities. Judy Martin and students from Judson College will be on hand to facilitate the process and document your stories. In the coming months we will complete the research and provide the attendees with a summary of the stories collected. Over time the stories will be submitted for inclusion in the Black Belt Heritage Area designation and they may be developed as interpretive opportunities. The designation would give international attention to the region which is important for its history and impact on race relations, culture, recreation, and natural resources.

Caring for the Land, Serving People

For additional info:
Judy B. Martin
Telephone 334.683.8891

Cindy Ragland
Telephone 205-926-9765 (ext 226)

Matt Hartzell
Telephone: 205-926-3117

What is a National Heritage Area?
A "National Heritage Area" is a place designated by the United
States Congress where natural, cultural, historic and recreational
resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally distinctive landscape
arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography.
These patterns make National Heritage Areas representative of the
national experience through the physical features that remain and
the traditions that have evolved in the areas.

The Blocton Book is Back in Print!

The Blocton history is being reprinted! Tell family and friends--let me know if you need ordering instructions--names and addresses will be appreciated.

Charles E. Adams
3331 Arcadia Drive
Tuscaloosa, Al. 35404
phone: 205 553 5926

Monday, August 6, 2007

My Road to Making a Difference

For the last 10 months, AmeriCorps-Vista has been my life, and my road to making a difference...
I was working as a part time naturalist, barely making enough money to eat, but doing what I love, when I heard of a job opening with the Cahaba River Society. The Cahaba is one of my favorite places to paddle because of its sheer, blazing beauty and also because I know the water is clean. I’ve been paddling the Cahaba for the past three years in Lily Season [March-May] and year round above the 280 bridge. It’s become a tradition to go down to Bibb County and see these giant spider (Cahaba) lilies growing straight out of the river bedrock, through the water. It’s a fairy tale setting – so when I heard about an AmeriCorps job with the Cahaba River Society, I Jumped. And I called, setting up a meeting with the current VISTA, and then sending in my resume.
AmeriCorps VISTA is a program focused on helping impoverished communities and the people therein better themselves. It’s like Peace Corps, except you stay at home and get to help people. The specific arm of AmeriCorps in which I’ve been working, OSM VISTA, had the environmental tie-in I was looking for. So it began. I worked for two months to get the paperwork through the bureaucracy and get to know the community, and by the end of the summer; I was already a part of the community.
What I’ve realized in Bibb County, as a result — huge personal growth, ecotourism planning, reviving a committee for a Coke Ovens Community Park, helping put on new events for the river (cleanups, River Ramble: Year II,) promoting more educational field trips- taking kids to the river in their backyard through CRS's Shane Hulsey CLEAN Program, and especially aiding community members in making the changes they want to see – is making a difference.
It’s documented on the web, here in this blog.
Now, I’m ending my AmeriCorps journey. I'm handing the projects over to my friends and starting my new job!! Through this year's work, I've been able to get a full time job in the environmental protection field. I’m the new watershed organizer for the Alabama Rivers Alliance, so I’ll be going statewide. If you have a desire to help- your self, your communities, your state, your river, the environment > then get involved. Try looking up your local watershed group if you live in Alabama and go to a meeting, volunteer with organizations or events you think are cool. See what’s already going on in your town. Recycle, be conscious of your water and electricity use. And if you want some good experience and training, are willing to work for practically nothing, gaining as much as you put in it, try AmeriCorps.