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Plan to create national park in delta lingers

June 8, 2014

CREOLA, Ala. (AP) — Barefoot, Wayne Moffett threaded a fishing hook through a cricket on a recent afternoon before throwing his line into a marshy pond at the River Delta campground.

“This is my favorite place to come and just relax,” he said. “A lot of people say this area is Alabama’s hidden treasure.”

The 250,000-acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta encompasses a remote swath of tangled rivers and swampy marshland that run through much of south Alabama.  The region, home to a treasure trove of plant and wildlife, is considered among the most vibrant delta regions in North America.  It is also under constant threat from pollution, development and changes in the environment — issues that advocates have tried to mitigate for more than 40 years through various efforts.

“I think it needs to be protected, there is a lot of wildlife out here that you cannot really find any place else,” Moffett said while showing off a brightly colored Red Belly fish he pulled from the water earlier in the day.  

Efforts to protect the region and even have it included in the National Park System have come and gone through the decades.  A bill to include the region in a study to determine if it should be granted national park status has lingered since September in a House subcommittee.

Jeffery Olson, spokesman for the National Park Service, said it doesn’t appear the region will become part of the park system anytime soon.

“It is a very high standard for what is of national significance,” he said. “Only about 10 to 15 percent of studies lead to some action being taken.”

And he said there is usually major grassroots support from local residents, officials and other groups who want an area to become part of the national park system, he said.

There isn’t such advocacy for the Mobile-Tensaw Delta to become part of the national park system right now, he said.

The park was last studied for inclusion in the National Park System back in 1979.

Before leaving office in 2013, former U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner sent a letter to park officials advocating for the region.

Longtime Mobile resident Bill Finch has worked for decades to raise awareness about the importance of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

“It is a great North American treasure,” Finch said.  “It is one of the few delta regions in North America that is still functioning like a Delta.” 

Finch said there is no organized push at the moment to do anything specific to protect the park but that he and other advocates are always working to promote the region’s biological diversity and importance to the state.

The main public access point to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a small campground just south of Interstate 65 and east of Creola. The park includes a boat ramp, RV campground, cabins and elevated wood-plank nature walk that winds its way above the swamp and under dense Cypress Trees, vines and other vegetation.  

The elevated interstate can be seen from the park, passersby on the interstate often don’t realize the park is even there said Sherri Mims who works in the campground office.

The park is quiet most of the year, but gets a little busy in the summer, Mims said.

In the three years she has worked at the park she has seen pelicans, alligators, snakes, raccoons and other animals wander the campground.

The region even supports a variety of black bear known as the Delta bear.

“It is the breeding ground for so many creatures,” Finch said. “You find most every form of aquatic life within that basin.”

Among the biggest threats to the area is development outside the region that could change water flow into the Delta, he said.

“It is very hard to build in the flood plain of the Delta but the water that is there comes from all the creeks that flow through Mobile and other places in the state,” he said. “What happens to the land around the Delta is hugely important.”

Although there is no major push at the moment for federal protection of the Delta, Finch said the region’s ecological and biological importance is recognized by many in the state and that advocates will continue to push for its preservation.

“It is an extraordinary place from both a culture and biological perspective and it will ultimately be up to the community to determine its future,” he said.

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