Today, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is a beautiful area for recreation and relaxation, but it was a long fight to establish the preserve. Turkey Creek Nature Preserve wouldn’t have been possible without may dedicated partnerships, including a very important group of Pinson citizens, organized under the name S.T.A.R.T., or Society To Advance the Resources at Turkey Creek.
In 1998 the prison in downtown Birmingham was becoming overcrowded and Jefferson County had begun searching for a site for a second prison. After much searching, the area that is now Turkey Creek Nature Preserve was proposed as a location. Jefferson County hoped to build a new jail to house 900 minimum to moderate security prisoners, a $50 million project. This plan was opposed by many Pinson citizens. With a desire to protect the beloved Turkey Creek site, a local grassroots organization, S.T.A.R.T. (Society To Advance the Resources at Turkey Creek), formed and grew to 7,000 members.
S.T.A.R.T. had many reasons to oppose the jail site—the lands was in a residential area, which is not only undesirable but would also lead to decreased property values, the area was rich with history and Native American artifacts had been found in the jail site, and the construction of the jail had to potential to seriously harm the localized vermillion darter population, an endangered fish found only in Turkey Creek. With these reasons in mind, S.T.A.R.T. began to meet and organize with the goal to stop the construction of the jail at Turkey Creek and to preserve the land for future generations.
S.T.A.R.T. became very active as the members fundraised for their work, attended commissioner meetings and met with city and county officials. It turned out that Jefferson County was not only looking for a jail site, but also tracts of land to preserve, and Turkey Creek was proposed for both projects. This helped spark the idea that, if the jail could be avoided, the Turkey Creek could become a preserve for education and recreation. However, before much headway could be made in preserving the land, a new jail site had to be found. S.T.A.R.T. members were clear in meetings with the commissioner that they did not oppose the creation of a new jail to decrease overcrowding, only the proposed site of the jail. With this view, S.T.A.R.T. had the support of the district’s commissioner, Bettye Fine Collins, though they still had to convince the county. S.T.A.R.T. co-founder and vice president, Mike Hamilton, went so far as to talk to then-mayor Richard Arrington about alternatives for the jail site, even proposing an old US Steel Property in Ensley.
By November of 1998, S.T.A.R.T. had won its first battle, as plans for the Turkey Creek Prison site were discarded. However, there was still a long way to go in deciding the future of the Turkey Creek land. The citizens of Pinson could rest easy though, as S.T.A.R.T. was becoming one of the most successful grassroots efforts of all time and a prison would not be in their backyard.
Part two of the S.T.A.R.T. story and the work to protect Turkey Creek can be found HERE!
This blog post was written by Sarah Gilkerson.
Sarah is interning at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve this summer. She is from Atlanta and attends Birmingham-Southern College where she is studying biology. Outside of work, Sarah enjoys canoeing and comic books.