In September 2022, Toyota and the National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF) partnered with the Land Trust of North Alabama for the 2022 National Public Lands Day (NPLD) Signature Event, a large-scale work day at Harvest Square Nature Preserve.
This event kicked off a three year $150,000 grant project to improve accessibility for preserve visitors and provide inclusive environmental education opportunities for our community.
National Public Lands Day Signature Event
Following a short ceremony to celebrate and officially launch the grant project, nearly 50 volunteers decked 800 feet of boardwalk along the trails at Harvest Square and an accessible lunch table was installed at the pavilion. Boardwalks will provide a safe, even surface and wider trail corridor to make the preserve more accessible for visitors with limited mobility. This also addresses the unique trail management challenges at this location because of consistent flooding in the area, largely due to increasing beaver activity in Dry Creek. After periods of rain, trails would often be covered in water or turn to mud, making them impassable. A raised surface will keep trails dry and navigable despite wet weather conditions.
A small, dedicated group of volunteers were instrumental in making this project a success. In the weeks leading up to the NPLD work day, they helped construct the foundations of the boardwalks and then returned in the weeks afterwards to add final touches such as ramps and curbs along the edges to make them safe for strollers and wheelchairs.
Kevin Butt, Senior Director of Toyota Motor North America, Inc.’s Environmental Sustainability, Sustainability & Regulatory Affairs attended the NPLD work event and said, “National Public Lands Day is about collaboration to improve public lands and provided the ideal opportunity to launch this project, which aims to improve accessibility and mobility in this wonderful preserve”
Brand New Bridges
In February, our Land Stewards and volunteers spent a week at Harvest Square to replace two of the preserve’s main bridges. The first is located near the entrance and kiosk and the second crossed the creek to the pavilion. Both bridges were original structures that had significantly weathered over time. The old bridges were removed and new structures using steel support beams were installed in their place. The new bridges were also built a little higher to accommodate flooding and keep visitors safe and dry.
Coming Soon to Harvest Square
This multi-year grant project means that there are a lot of exciting changes and programming coming to Harvest Square. Within the next year, we will complete a variety of physical improvements to the preserve in order to remove accessibility barriers. This includes the boardwalks constructed on National Public Lands Day, additional boardwalks and bridges, as well as a lakeside dock. All of these additions will be constructed to meet ADA standards.
With two ponds, a seasonal wetland area, farm fields, transitional scrub areas, and woodlands, Harvest Square supports a number of native pollinator species including birds, bats, butterflies, moths, and beetles to name a few. New boardwalks, pathways, and bridges will be constructed with as little disturbance outside of the trail corridor as possible to protect the plant species that support these native pollinators. In addition, as work is completed on the preserve, non-native invasive species will be removed so that native species have space and resources to flourish.
Currently in the planning phase, a pollinator and sensory garden will be established on the preserve beginning in Fall 2023. The planned garden, which includes eleven 8’x4’ raised, accessible beds, will feature native plant species that will offer an ideal habitat and food source for native and migrating pollinators.
In addition to infrastructure improvements, the grant provides funding to provide the community with educational resources and experiences. Pollinator gardens will offer the ideal site for a wide variety of environmental education programs and field trips that can showcase the biodiversity of our area, the need to protect plants and animals, and how visitors can host native and migrating pollinators in their own gardens. Educational signage and an audio tour will also be installed to provide self-guided educational content, such as pollinators, farming, flora, fauna, birding, and more.
These educational resources combined with the physical improvements to the preserve will offer users of all abilities a chance to see, touch, hear, and learn about nature and our role in protecting it. All grant activities will be completed by the end of 2025.
Want to Get Involved?
Throughout this three year project, there will be numerous opportunities for volunteers to get involved in the process. Work days will take place at Harvest Square monthly as we complete the boardwalks and bridges. We’ll also host work days focused on the removal of invasive species and trimming back existing trail corridors. Once the pollinator garden is underway, the Land Trust will need significant volunteer support as we build and plant beds and then water and weed them regularly, particularly in the first year until the garden is more established.
You can find upcoming volunteer opportunities on our event calendar and sign up to help at landtrustnal.org/events.