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Chilton Natural Resources Council serves vital role

By JOYANNA LOVE/ Senior Staff Writer

Preserving the natural resources of Chilton County is the goal of the Chilton Natural Resources Council.

What would become the Chilton Natural Resources Council was formed in 2014 with the Chilton County Extension office, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Chilton County Master Gardeners Association and the Cahaba Clean Water Partnership represented among the founding members.

Additional organizations and individuals joined, and the current name was chosen in 2015.

Since that time, the council has established a number of annual programs including continuing education classes for professional loggers, Classroom in the Forest for fifth-grade students, Arbor Day tree giveaways, Landowner Tours and the Chilton County Water Festival for fourth-grade students.

Gay West of the Chilton County Extension office, who serves as secretary for the organization, said the council now has 22 members from a variety of backgrounds related to preserving and maintaining natural resources.

“If people are interested in forestry, wildlife and natural resources and are interested in volunteering to do some educational programs, then they are welcome to come and attend the meetings,” West said.

The Council meets once a month or as needed.

Those interested in attending the Council’s meetings can contact West at westgay@aces.edu.

Extension is also represented on the Council by Spencer Bradley, who is a wildlife and natural resources agent.

“It is in our best interest I think as a county and as an Extension office to promote the resources that we have,” West said.

The council does this through its educational programs.

The inaugural project for the Council was the Landowner Tour. This event highlights a local property where the owner follows best practices. Brian Smith of the Alabama Forestry Commission, who serves as treasurer for the Council, said the Council began by holding the tour annually in October.

For the Water Festival, the Council partners with the Natural Resources and Conservation Service to host the event, which features hands-on activities teaching students about the water cycle, water purification and more.

The 2020 Water Festival had 630 students in attendance. (It was also the last field trip Chilton County Schools participated in before the school system closed in an effort to decrease the potential spread of COVID-19.)

West said all of the Council’s projects represent partnerships among agencies because everyone benefits from promoting good stewardship and it helps the individual agencies reach their goals.

Providing continued education training to local professional loggers has always been a focus for the group. Loggers are required to have a certain amount of continuing education hours each year.

Before the Council began hosting these classes, West said they were hosted through the Chilton County Extension Office.

“Logging is such a big industry for us, providing those classes to the loggers provided them what they needed, and I just saw that as an important role for Extension in Chilton County because it is such a big part of our economy,” West said.

The classes were a good project for the Council to take on because many with expertise in the field that could teach the classes were members of the Council.

Organizing the classes also goes quickly because there are more people working on it. West said having more people involved also means a greater variety of topics.

Smith said these classes are offered twice a year as an option to keep logging professionals from having to leave the county or even the state to fulfill the requirements.

Classroom in the Forest is West’s favorite program the Council hosts.

“It’s fun,” West said. “We invite all of the fifth graders in the county to attend … They get to be outside. They do interactive activities and learn about natural resources, wildlife forestry, so they have a good day out in the woods doing activities.”

Smith said Classroom in the Forest is a project that most natural resources councils throughout the state offer.

There are similar councils across the state working toward the same goal for their counties. He said members can include members from the Department of Conservation, game wardens, “land owners who practice forestry and good wildlife habitat maintenance.”

Each agency represented brings expertise in their field to the discussions.

“It has just been an amazing ride over the last eight years,” Smith said. “Seeing what all we could do, what all we are capable of doing.”

He said the board is six to eight people, and so he is proud of what they have been able to lead the group to do.

Smith said now when the Council holds an event, each person already knows their part to make the program a success. He commented that the group has also found ways to make programs better each year.

Smith said he has enjoyed “just seeing everyone come together and how we work and what we have gotten accomplished — that has probably been the biggest blessing the relationships that we made. The projects are fun, and it is awesome to see.”

He has enjoyed working with a group of people who want to be a part of the programs.

“I think God has been good and He has blessed our events to the point that we haven’t had any injuries,” Smith said. “We haven’t had anybody get lost. And, I think it is just because God has blessed this council with the people that are on it.”

The hard work of the council was recognized three years ago when the Chilton Natural Resources Council received the Most Outstanding Council Award for Central Alabama.

“That comes with $2,000 from Auburn (University),” Smith said.

Councils are eligible to apply for this award every three years. Smith said the Chilton Natural Resources Council has already put in their application for this year.