What’s now known as Shoal Creek Ranger District was mostly uninhabited before it was bought by the government in 1936, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s effort to conserve America’s forests, said biologist Jonathan Stober.
It’s an ecosystem heavily influenced by naturally occurring fires: When more of that type of blaze occurred, longleaf pines thrived. The ecosystem changed as wildfires were controlled, allowing the loblolly pines to supplant the iconic — but slow-growing — longleaf as the area’s dominant tree species.
“They’re weedy trees,” Stober said as the planned five-hour hike began. “They can grow very fast very quickly.”
The hike is an ongoing part of a formal agreement between Jacksonville State University and the USFS. A forest service biologist, such as Stober, leads at least one hike each season, three or four in the summer. In turn, the faculty and staff of JSU help out the forest service.
“Our motto is that our programs are from the deepest canyon to the highest mountain,” said Pete Conroy, JSU director of environmental policy and information center.
Nine people, mostly from the area but one visiting family from as far away as San Diego, joined Stober for the educational hike Saturday morning. Victor Howell, a forester from south Alabama, was in the area and decided to come indulge in one of his two favorite hobbies, the other being cross-country motorcycling.
“Why not?” Howell said. “I like meeting the people.”
It was the second JSU-sponsored educational event for Kathrine Carroll, a nurse from Mobile, who joined a couple of friends on the trip.
“My friend saw it on the (JSU) web site and we like to try new things,” Carroll said. “They’re (JSU events) fascinating.”
All members of the group listened as Stober explained how fire plays an essential part in daily life — even if its role is less visible than when it created an environment where longleaf pines could thrive.
“It’s sequestered in a combustion engine or far away in a power plant,” Stober said. “We’re all children of fire.”
Star staff writer Jason Bacaj: 256-235-3546