Birdsong wafts through rustling pine savannahs. Gentle waves lap within hidden marshes, while sunlight flashes through a prism of clouds above the Perdido River. If you or I are ever in need of stress reduction, this new Conservancy preserve may offer the remedy – it’s a balm that soothes the soul.
Part of a significant protected corridor, the preserve is enlivened by the river and its estuaries, blackwater creeks and remote lakes. Dominated by open pine flatwoods and bottomland forests, the land is dotted with marshes, swamps and mystic bogs. Here, nature moves at its own pace.
The preserve is still in early stages of restoration, but – after several years of careful land management – its trees and herbaceous groundcover show dramatic results. Resident and migratory birds coexist with recovering populations of native mammals and reptiles.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
A private foundation donated funds in 2003, asking us to protect this property and create an opportunity for others to experience natural Florida. The freshwater and terrestrial habitats – among the most highly biodiverse in North America – offer important opportunities for education, research and nature-based recreation.
What the Conservancy Has Done/Is Doing to Restore the Site
Longleaf pine forest and groundcover restoration is underway. Here at the wetter end of the longleaf’s range, staff is experimenting with restoration techniques. In some cases, restoration began with a bare field after the harvest of slash pines grown for pulpwood. The Conservancy has supervised the planting of more than 160,000 longleaf pine seedlings and – even more importantly – restored more than 200 acres of native groundcover.
This ecologically significant habitat once dominated the South, but today – reduced by development, logging and the absence of fire – only about 3 percent of the original forests remain. Many of the healthiest stands are in northwest Florida. Longleaf pine trees, which live for hundreds of years and reach heights of 120 feet, typically harbor hundreds of additional species.
Controlled burns, carefully planned and professionally executed, clear the understory and allow for the return of a thriving longleaf pine grassland. They also serve to eliminate the buildup of massive fuel loads, reducing the likelihood of destructive wildfire.
Throughout history, lightning-ignited wildfires occurred here every two to five years, but fire was suppressed for decades. With its return, native plant and animal communities respond in kind – wiregrass, bluestems and Indian grass grow lush and abundant and even pitcher plant bogs burst with flowers only two months after a fire.
Black Creek restoration: In many ways the centerpiece of the preserve, Black Creek offers a perfect mirror image of wildlife, foliage and sky. Since the 1950s, the creek had been blocked by a series of culverts. The Conservancy restored the aquatic system by removing these culverts, reconnecting the stream channel with its natural floodplain.
Invasive Species are managed to maintain the composition, structure and functions of the preserve’s ecology. Staff and volunteers work throughout the year to prevent new infestations, detect and respond to any newly discovered exotics and control the preexisting infestations.
The preserve will offer ecological interpretation and appropriate nature-based recreation to the community. Self-guided, interpretive hiking trails and a canoe/kayak system are in design. Plans may also allow for a native plant garden. Funding is sought for these, as well as visitor parking lots and restrooms.
Preserve staff collaborate with state, federal and local agencies, as well as many like-minded groups and individuals, including the following:
BCR Foundation – The preserve is a living memorial to Betty and Crawford Rainwater, whose family foundation allowed the property’s purchase in 2003. The family held this land in the 1940s and 50s as part of a large ranch that specialized in pedigreed Angus bulls; the original Rainwater caretaker’s house remains as rustic Conservancy headquarters. Three different timber companies later held ownership for 45 years, planting and logging slash pine plantations.
Gulf Power/Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Generous grants from these partnering organizations have allowed the planting of thousands of longleaf pine seedlings and enhanced hundreds of acres of groundcover. Volunteers have constructed hiking trails, cleared brush and are helping restore the old caretaker house. The Southern Company has also provided valuable architectural services.
Local volunteers including Boy Scouts, U.S. Navy flight school cadets and numerous private citizens have helped with tasks such as trail construction, tree planting, plant and wildlife surveys, seed collection and sowing, and invasive species control. For volunteer opportunities, contact Adlai Platt.
Environmental club members have enjoyed field trips and birding hikes on the preserve. Important conservation partners, they have assisted with bird counts during spring migrations and are helpful in spotting wildflowers, butterflies and other wildlife as well. The bird species count stands at 111 confirmed; this is sure to increase with additional surveys.
The Conservancy’s Alabama Chapter – Across the river and to the north, The Nature Conservancy owns an additional 6,000 acres of river frontage in Baldwin County, Alabama. This property is known for its enormous white cedar trees and protection of the upper river. The Conservancy owns and protects additional acreage at the headwaters of the Perdido River system at Alabama’s fantastic Splinter Hill Bog Preserve.
Contact Information: Brent Shaver at (251) 433-1150 x 104
Betty and Crawford Rainwater Perdido River Preserve is home to many rare and protected carnivorous plants.