First leg of Black Belt Birding Trail locating in Lowndes County

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 18, 2005

More than 66 million people older than age 16 photographed, fed or observed wildlife in 2001.

That in turn had a $40 billion impact in association with birding activities. Now central Alabama will have a chance to pull from such a large revenue pastime after a partnership was formed between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Alabama Department of Conservation of Natural Resources.

The two entities broke ground Wednesday to introduce the Black Belt Birding Trail at the Holy Ground Battlefield Park outside of the rural Lowndes County community of White Hall.

The trail, itself, has not yet been determined how it will wind through the central Alabama area, said Mark Sasser, who is non-game wildlife coordinator for ACDNR. But Holy Ground Battlefield Park will be the first site established for the trail.

Plans call for the design of a kiosk, three information displays and a boardwalk within the park.

"It's like putting in a new industry in the area," said ACDNR Commissioner Barnett Lawley. "Only we will see the financial effect on the tourism end."

Lowndes County has been active in promoting wildlife especially when it comes to birding.

The state and the U.S. Corps of Engineers have been working together for the last 10 years to re-introduce the bald eagle to the central region of the state through a hacking program. A hacking station was built last year specifically to re-introduce a young bald eagle at Prairie Creek Park, which is near Robert F. Henry Lock and Dam in Lowndes County.

"This park is one of the best kept secrets in the state," said Rep. James Thomas. "This is nothing but a tremendous plus for the Black Belt region of the state."

A kiosk is planned to be built for each loop of the trail within Holy Ground Battlefield Park. The covered structure will include interpretive signs such as a mapped display of the loop, identification of the bird species common in the area, photographs of the birds and habitat information for each species.

"Avid birders don't need these, but 80 percent of the visitors along bird trails are not avid birders," said Ike Lyon, park manager of Holy Ground Battlefield Park. "These trails don't target the avid birders anyhow. These trails are for the novice bird-watcher who is looking for something else to do on a weekend or vacation trip."

Alabama earns more than $35 million a year just from wildlife viewing, Lyon said. That breaks down into each visitor spending an average of $238 per day within the state to view wildlife.

Alabama currently has two birding trail sites along the Gulf coast and a new North Alabama Birding Trail that is set to open in September. The North Alabama Trail, although not officially open, has been featured in National Geographic as one of the best stops along the Appalachian Trail, Sasser said.