Originally published February 2018 in Land Trust of North Alabama’s 2017 Annual Impact Report.
Located on a finger of Keel Mountain just east of the Madison/Jackson County line and south of Hwy 72 is the newest “preserve to be” for the Land Trust of North Alabama. The property, once part of a working cattle farm – the Diamond T Ranch – was donated by avid wildflower enthusiast and Land Trust member and volunteer, Bonnie Tondera.
Bonnie was born in Colorado and spent many of her younger years exploring her uncles’ cattle ranches. With miles to roam, she cultivated an interest in the outdoors and especially in wildflowers. She carried that interest with her to Huntsville. She and her husband purchased a farm just east of Madison County on which to raise cattle. Both spent hours working on the ranch and exploring its mountainside woodlands – even making it available to churches, youth groups, and scouts for picnics, hikes, and hayrides.
With her children now grown and the pasture land from the ranch leased to a farmer, Bonnie began to consider her options for the mountainside portion of the property.
Although she is passionate about wildflowers and an local expert and author on the subject, that passion is eclipsed by Bonnie’s enthusiasm and excitement for giving others, especially families, a chance to enjoy the mountains and forests that she loves so much.
While thinking about donating the mountain portion of her ranch to the Land Trust, Bonnie kindly agreed to give me a tour of the “farm.” Her petite 70-year-old frame was a bundle of energy and excitement as we began the hike. The first leg of the journey included jumping an electric fence – something that she did easily (while I on the other hand got to experience its hair-raising shock) – and marching across the meadow. I could barely keep up. She began telling stories about her family and the farm, giggling occasionally as she recalled the memories. When we arrived at the base of the mountain, she excitedly began hiking up through the woods calling out the names of the different plants and flowers. She was truly in her element. When we had returned to the cars and had said our goodbyes for the day, she poked her head into the open car window and with eyes full of spark said,
“I am really excited thinking about preserving this land and leaving a legacy!”
With that, Bonnie began working with the Land Trust in earnest to preserve her mountainside. At the end of 2017, her legacy of the Diamond T Preserve became a reality! Although much work is to be done to build a trailhead and network of trails, these 78+ acres of Keel Mountain are now protected forever. They will once again be available in the future for outdoor adventure, hikes, and education.
“[My children] will enjoy bringing their children and grandchildren to the farm. It’ll always be there. I just want future generations to enjoy the outdoors.”
– Bonnie Tondera, Land Donor
Diamond T Nature Preserve is not currently open to the public but we hope to make it available for visitors in the future. Land Trust Members receive special invitations to preview properties not available for public access. Not a member? Join Today!