Two miles of ridgeline on Double Oak Mountain preserved forever.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—For more than 60 years, Double Oak Mountain has represented a family’s legacy. Over the years, this family watched as dirt roads turned to asphalt and pine forests turned to brick homes. Although the mountain was changing in front of their eyes, their legacy endured the test of time. Now, thanks to many conservation-minded partners, a piece of Double Oak Mountain that withstood decades of change and development, will be preserved forever.
The Freshwater Land Trust (FWLT) has purchased 225 acres of the Smyer Ridge property on Double Oak Mountain, totaling two miles of ridgeline seen by several communities throughout Dunnavant Valley in fast developing Shelby County. The Freshwater Land Trust will own and manage the property, ensuring that the ridgeline is conserved in perpetuity through a revolving stewardship program.
“Saving Double Oak Mountain is once in a lifetime opportunity. Not only is this ridgeline biologically significant to the unbroken Appalachian mountain chain, but it is also beloved by people throughout Dunnavant Valley,” FWLT Executive Director Wendy Jackson said.
Billy Smyer inherited this property on Double Oak Mountain from his father, eventually gifting a portion of the land to his children and later selling most of the rest to a local realty company. Being located in Shelby County, one of the fastest growing counties in Alabama, the Smyer’s remaining undeveloped property on Double Oak Mountain is a treasure to the communities within its view shed. This project not only conserves a beautiful and rare forested habitat, but also protects a ridgeline critical to the landscape of Shelby County.
In addition, Double Oak Mountain is a region deemed a hotspot of biodiversity for both terrestrial and aquatic species. This mountain chain supports habitat for over 250 birds, 78 mammals, 58 reptiles and 76 amphibians and over 6,300 plant species including dense pockets of trout lilies and trillium, as well as mosses and ferns. Nearly 60 different trees and shrubs may grow in this diverse cove hardwood forest. Headwater streams in the Southern Appalachians are the lifeblood of the larger watershed and are crucial to wildlife and healthy fisheries and maintaining water quality downstream.
The Double Oak Mountain watershed contributes to Alabama’s high aquatic biodiversity and serves as the headwaters for both Shoal Creek to the northwest and the Coosa River to the southeast. It is also home to remnant mountain longleaf pine and serves as a critical migration corridor for over 64 high priority migratory bird species.
“Double Oak Mountain is so important to some of Alabama’s most unique species,” Wendy Jackson said. “We select projects based on a ten-year strategic conservation plan, which guides our conservation efforts. This site ranked as a Priority 1 area for conservation.”
The Freshwater Land Trust will manage the ridgetop property as a private nature preserve. However, the property will be used for scientific research and guided field trips for educational purposes.
“These 225 acres represent a small portion of Shelby County’s 808 square miles and are woven into its diverse landscape. By preserving this area, future generations will enjoy the beauty of the natural environment for years to come. The area may provide educational opportunities for scientific study that would not be available without this type of ridge top preservation and watershed headwater protection. This area, along with our other diverse natural resources, is among the many reasons people choose to visit or reside in our County,” said Alex Dudchock, Shelby County Manager.
The purchase of the property was made possible by a host of local and regional partners and from community individuals, some who were not previously conservation donors. The Smyer Family made the lead gift to the FWLT’s fundraising campaign to purchase the ridge, followed by a challenge grant from an anonymous North Carolina philanthropist. Local foundations including the Robert Meyer Foundation, Susan Mott Webb Foundation, and Norcross Wildlife Foundation matched the grant along with local individual support.
“The Freshwater Land Trust’s fundraising strategy for this capital campaign engaged many new conservation donors who truly committed their hearts to preserving the viewshed of Double Oak Mountain,” FWLT Board Chair Ann Florie said. “We are proud to conserve this special place that means so much to so many.”
Now, decades later, the Smyer Family can rest assured that because of their good stewardship, this piece of Double Oak Mountain will continue to represent their family’s legacy.
“The Freshwater Land Trust’s work allows the mountain, which I have known all my life, to remain wild,” Billy Smyer said. “My hope is that future generations can enjoy the same mountain views that I have.”