A Walk in the Swamp
[guest blog post by intern Mitchell Vaughan]
On Friday, May 23, I accompanied Kaul Wildflower Curator John Manion and my two fellow interns on a visit to the University of Montevallo’s Ebenezer Swamp Ecological Preserve on Spring Creek in Shelby County. The Swamp is a 60 acre tract of natural wetland, located near the University of Montevallo campus and used by the university for education and research. It’s part of the Cahaba River Watershed, which brings us to an interesting distinction: that between a swamp and a bog. Swamps form in the basins and floodplains surrounding rivers, where river water flows into lower, shallower areas and eventually flows back into another river system. Bogs are raised areas of stagnant water, which accumulate from precipitation and are held by the high peat content of the surrounding soil. Unlike swamps, true bogs seldom have regular inflow or drainage. Swamps also differ from bogs in that they are able to support large hardwood species. Some of the dominant species in Ebenezer Swamp are Nyssa aquatica (water tupelo), Acer rubrum (red maple), Magnolia virginiana (sweet bay magnolia) and Platanus occidentalis (sycamore). Numerous other interesting plant species also occur there, some rare and some endangered.
Traversing the swamp is possible on a boardwalk, built and maintained by the university, which meanders gently across the length of the swamp. Walking along, I sensed the primordial nature of the place, from it having existed undisturbed for centuries before human encroachment. The swamp once came under threat when plans were made to drain the area to make way for a quarry. Fortunately, through legal action by the university, that plan was cancelled. Macknally Land Design subsequently created the master plan for the development of the swamp.
Ebenezer Swamp must be experienced in person if its beauty and serenity are to be fully appreciated. For some, the word “swamp” conjures images of murky, tannin-stained mires, but the sight of the bright dappled light in Ebenezer Swamp couldn’t be further from this. The waters teem with fish, mussels, and crayfish, all readily visible from the comfort of the boardwalk. Visitors are able to observe up-close, an array of lush plant life. Alabama residents, owe it to themselves to visit this natural state wonder at least once, probably to return again and again… as I will.