Friends of Shades Creek’s Mission
Our mission is to promote the rich history of Shades Creek, to protect its aesthetic and ecological integrity, and to advocate responsible planning in the communities through which it runs. Shades Creek is important to the water quality of the Cahaba River, Alabama’s natural wonder, and, by extension, of the Alabama River and Mobile Bay.
As a charitable non-profit, Friends of Shades Creek leverages opportunities for positive influence in Shades Valley several ways: (1) by building a membership and donor base of “friends,” (2) by conducting monthly and annual educational programs and events, and (3) by building community partnerships with local governments, educational institutions, businesses and environmental advocacy organizations.
Our accomplishments since incorporating in 2001 include:
Shades Creek Management Plan Funded partially by Friends of Shades Creek and the Cahaba River Society in 2020, completion of the study is a requirement for leveraging larger grants from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for major water quality improvement projects, such as green infrastructure improvement and storm water runoff mitigation, in the Shades Creek-Cahaba River watershed beginning in 2021.
Invasive Plant Eradication The board of Friends of Shades Creek endorsed and inspected the eradication of all exotic invasive plants in a three-mile stretch of Shades Creek in Homewood. Funded by the City of Homewood Environmental Commission, Homewood City Schools and Samford University, the work was conducted by Mark Thomas of Forestry/Wildlife Integration, LLC in 2019. Annual maintenance is scheduled beginning in 2020.
Native Tree Planting Friends of Shades Creek participated in the planting of over 1,000 locally sourced, native tree seedlings along the Shades Creek Greenway in Homewood. This partnership began in 2015 with Samford University, Homewood Environmental Commission and the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Seedlings of over twenty river bank and floodplain species are growing well, enriching the composition of the forest.
River Education Five board members were trained at three locations around the state in Dr. Bill Deutsch’s new educator’s program, “Alabama Rivers, A Celebration & Challenge.” This will become a principal piece of Friends of Shades Creek’s state curriculum-based education initiative for grades K-12, begun on a trial basis at a middle school extended day program in fall, 2019.
Shades Creek, Flowing Through Time The beautifully written and illustrated 216-page book, published by the Birmingham Historical Society, includes significant technical information and historical narrative provided by board members of Friends of Shades Creek. Sold for the first time at the 2019 Salamander Festival it is available through Friends of Shades Creek and the Birmingham Historical Society.
The Salamander Festival This annual family educational event, displaying salamanders, reptiles, turtles and fish living in Shades Creek, is supported by local educational institutions, municipalities, businesses, environmental organizations, and artists, and takes place on the last Saturday of January. In 2019, the event had 850 people attend the festival, which included an outdoor nature hike followed by the indoor event. In 2020 the 17th annual Salamander Festival included a Storyboard hike at Homewood Forest Preserve and also became a virtual event which included educational videos which can be found here. The Salamander Festival, Friends of Shades Creek’s flagship event, replaced an original educational event held in the fall of 2000 and 2001 at Southern Progress and in 2002 and 2003 at Samford University. In 2018 and 2019, an additional outdoor festival, Shades Creek Fest, was held on Shades Creek in partnership with the Friends of Jemison Park.
Homewood Forest Preserve Established in partnership with the City of Homewood and the Fresh Water Land Trust, the 65-acre preserve is a wildlife sanctuary and breeding habitat for the iconic spotted salamander. It is an amenity for environmental education, used regularly by local schools and universities, and is the location of over a mile of beautiful public hiking trails. The preserve has been used regularly for over twenty-five years by Friends of Shades Creek for educational hikes concerning the role of forests and soils in watershed protection.
Erosion Control on Shades Creek Guided by Friends of Shades Creek, advocating a partnership between Samford University and Dr. Greg Jennings, a North Carolina-based engineer specializing in aquatic ecosystem restoration, ten rock “vanes” were installed in the creek channel to reduce erosion and to stabilize its banks instead of using unsightly rip-rap. Naturalistic waterfalls also were created in a tributary in the Homewood Forest Preserve to mitigate creek bed erosion.
Railroad Car Removal Following a ten-year campaign led by Friends of Shades Creek to increase awareness of six railroad cars that had been placed in Shades Creek by a mining company to support a road bed near the Cahaba River, a consortium of partners was put together by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove them. A survey of fish and mussels, conducted by the University of Alabama prior to removal, identified one federally endangered and one federally threatened fish species not previously known to live on Shades Creek.
Annual Creek Clean-up Conducted on the last Saturday morning of September in partnership with Samford University, this event typically draws over 100 volunteers from families, schools, churches and civic clubs. Press coverage summarizes the point that, unless refuse is disposed of properly, “everything winds up in the creek.”
Monthly Meetings Held on the second Thursday of the month, excluding June and July, meetings typically draw from fifteen to twenty-five people. After some short business notes, presentations are made by invited speakers on a variety of relevant topics. A record attendance of 58 in January 2020 was for a joint meeting between Friends of Shades Creek and the Cahaba River Society.
Membership Benefits Friends of Shades Creek has conducted dozens of weekend educational nature hikes since it was formed in 1998. Leaders are trained in a variety of subjects, including forestry, botany, biology, birding, geology, fly fishing, history, etc.
Water Testing In partnership with Alabama Water Watch at Auburn University, Friends of Shades Creek has conducted monthly water tests for twenty years. One notorious result was the discovery of illegal point-source pollution by a car wash, which has since been corrected. Other discoveries have included sewage overflows, gasoline runoff and trash dams.