Protecting the Weeks Bay Watershed
Protecting an estuary in a rapidly developing coastal area is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle when the pieces are changing shape. Sound impossible? When you live in Alabama’s fastest growing county, it’s a challenge you get used to. Case in point: the Weeks Bay Reserve just acquired more than 300 acres, spanning three miles of shoreline in the watershed—thanks to the help of their friends at the South Alabama Land Trust (SALT).
SALT played a crucial role in the purchase of these lands, working with landowners to negotiate and secure purchase agreements; supporting Alabama’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) with due diligence, surveying, and appraisals; and providing a cash contribution towards the purchase of one of the parcels.
“Established relationships are key for land acquisition, so a lot of this was neighbor talking to neighbor,” says Connie Whitaker, SALT’s executive director. “Each parcel and landowner has a different story and reason for conserving. Some properties have been in families for generations and people want to make sure what their ancestors helped to conserve stays conserved forever.
Founded in 1990, SALT’s original mission was to help protect Weeks Bay Watershed around the Reserve. SALT has been instrumental in helping to protect more than 4,000 acres of the now 9,317 acres protected Reserve which contains upland and bottomland hardwood forests, salt and freshwater marshes, submerged aquatic vegetation and unique bog habitats. They passed that milestone, and now they are focused on identifying key parcels, starting land conservation discussions, and looking for ways to speed up a process that can be incredibly slow.
Part of their long-term strategy is working with the Reserve on willing-seller land acquisition, something that requires SALT to be well connected and recognized in the community.
“SALT has been a great partner in our land acquisition activities at the Weeks Bay NERR over the years,” says Angela Underwood, the Reserve’s manager. “They have a working knowledge of the local real estate landscape and have helped us to protect some of the key parcels in the watershed.”
“We know that people from the community are concerned about what’s happening in Baldwin County,” says Whitaker. “We can still see the river as it looked 100 years ago and we’re going to lose this land if we don’t do something fast. People want to support that.”
People like to see the footprint of how much land has been conserved in Weeks Bay already and hear the story first-hand. Land owned by the Reserve is state owned and managed.
NERRA is proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coastal Zone Management Act—the legislation that led to the creation of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. Want more Reserve stories delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletter.