Walker Area Foundation presents Wild Alabama $35,000 grant

From left, Walker Area Community Foundation President Paul Kennedy, Kim Waites, Wild Alabama Wilderness Stewardship Coordinator; Lindsay Madison, stewardship assistant; Brittany Seaborg, stewardship coordinator - Talladega National Forest, Maggie Johnston, Wild Alabama Executive Director and Janice Barrett, outreach and education coordinator. (Courtesy photo)

WINSTON COUNTY - The recent Wild Alabama volunteer picnic was made even sweeter by a visit from the Walker Area Community Foundation.
WACF President Paul Kennedy presented Wild Alabama Executive Director Maggie Johnston with a $35,000 grant check to help support Wild Alabama’s programs, including its highly popular educational programs.  The funding will go a long way to continue Wild Alabama’s mission, which is to inspire people to enjoy, value and protect the wild places of Alabama
“The WACF grant is significant in so many ways. Wild Alabama does not charge a fee for our hikes or other activities. We are dependent upon grants and donations. Knowing that the WACF is made up of local people who believe in the mission of Wild Alabama is powerful. This is the way we will all work together to protect and educate about the magical wild places such as the Sipsey Wilderness that we all need for our own peace and our children’s future,”  Johnston said.  
According to Johnston, Wild Alabama recruited over 20 new volunteers in 2021, and also added a new staff member.  Lindsay Madison is working part-time as the stewardship assistant primarily in the Bankhead National Forest.
One of the outreach programs Wild Alabama offers - Wild Wednesdays - was a big success in 2021.  Wild Wednesdays are family-friendly hikes into the forest geared for families with children.  They take place from late June through early August.  Outreach and Education Coordinator Janice Barrett had over 60 people participate this past summer.  The hikes were so popular that they have continued to take place, with one hike per month.  Currently, over 535 hours have been spent exploring the Bankhead through Wild Wednesday hikes.
Wild Alabama volunteers work so hard in both the Talladega and Bankhead National Forests to make them great places to visit.  In the Bankhead in 2021, Wild Alabama volunteers cleaned up five miles of Highway 33 and eight miles of Cranal Road.  They also performed campsite restoration and clean-up on all Sipsey trails.  Sipsey Wilderness trails 200, 201, 202, 203, 204, 206, 207 and 209 are all being maintained by volunteers.  
“With the pandemic, so many more people are camping, but many do not realize that it is their responsiblity to clean up their own campsites,”  Johnston said.
Volunteers also have performed weekly clean-ups of litter at Kinlock Falls and Hubbard Creek and removed invasive plant species throughout the Sipsey Wilderness, which allows the native plants to flourish.
Wild Alabama plans to continue its hard work in 2022.  In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, local schools and civic organizations, Wild Alabama plans to facilitate two citizen service projects.  The first will monitor hemlocks for wooly adelgid invasive insects.  The other will collect 30,000 acorns to be propagated and replanted in a 22-acre clearcut area.
The Wild Alabama Volunteer Wilderness Rangers program will continue in 2022, as well.  A group of 29 volunteers serve as ambassadors of the forest.  They get out weekly on Sipsey trails to talk to visitors about Leave No Trace, campfire safety and help them with way-finding.  Forest ambassadors are stationed at popular trailheads in the Sipsey Wilderness on busy weekends, distributing maps and educating visitors.
The new Wild Alabama website is a great way to keep up with all the wonderful things Wild Alabama is accomplishing, as well as learn of ways to volunteer.  To learn more, visit www.wildal.org.   

See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.
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