What is Knoll Park?
Given to the citizens of Fairhope by the Fairhope Single Tax Colony, Knoll Park is a rare remnant of Sandhill Longleaf Pine Forest that once dominated much of the Gulf Coast landscape from New Orleans to Tallahassee, covering millions of acres. These forests were among the most biodiverse landscapes and -- where large tracts are being restored and protected -- may be again. Nearly restored to its natural state, the Park will be is characterized by the towering Longleaf Pine with an open understory of herbaceous wildflowers alive with color in the spring and fall.
Why is it still endangered?
While Knoll Park remains one of Fairhope’s treasures, some of the Park’s most remarkable components were diminished during the past century, and by 2006, even the towering pines themselves were in danger. Without life-giving fire, the pines had quit reproducing, and there was not a single tree under fifty years old on site. Once the home to flourishing wild iris and some now endangered flora, wildflower populations had become almost insignificant, with only a few, such as liatris and asters, still blooming. These ancient, native forests have depended on naturally occurring fire from lightning strikes to groom and regenerate themselves. In addition to the overharvesting of Longleaf Pine for timber in the Southeast, the suppression of fire over the years allowed such remarkable forests to be choked to the point of death by understory vegetation, and, ironically, made them susceptible to out-of-control wildfires.
What is the aim of the restoration project?
The Knoll Park Restoration Project was originally a joint effort by the City of Fairhope and Fairhope Single Tax Corporation that aimed to restore the site to the beautiful and productive forest that would have been discovered by Fairhope’s Founders. The Founders understood the importance of large passive-use areas to a community, and with precious few Southern Longleaf Pine Forests remaining within urban settings, the restoration of Knoll Park will be a wonderful gift to present and future generations. Today the work continues through a collaboration between the City and a dedicated group of volunteers.
Why do you keep burning it?
Today, these forests still need fire to create a good seedbed and eliminate vines and brush that would otherwise stymie seedling establishment. Many populations of herbaceous plants require the same conditions for regeneration and growth. The Knoll Park Restoration Project Committee consulted foresters and botanists about methods for restoring the native plant populations and they recommended a series of controlled burns aimed toward establishing a self-sustaining ecosystem. The Committee initiated the first in a series of such burns in 2007. The burns are conducted under strict requirements and in cooperation with controlled-burn specialist and Fairhope resident Patrick Waldrip, the City, the Alabama Forestry Commission and volunteer firefighters who participate in the exercise. In addition, neighbors to Knoll Park have received advance notice about the burns and have become among the best-informed advocates for the Project.
How successful have you been?
Since the burns have been initiated, over 140 species of trees, shrubs, and wildflowers have been found and identified within Knoll Park. That number indicates extraordinary diversity over a relatively small area that is one city block wide and long. Some herbaceous species seen here are rare or no longer exist elsewhere in Fairhope. Of particular interest are some 30 plants of the orchid species Spiranthes praecox. In consultation with native plant experts, over seven hundred individuals comprising twenty species of “lost” herbaceous plants that botanists would expect to naturally occur on the site have been re-introduced through volunteer plantings and the controlled burns -- coupled with a brush removal program -- have yielded thousands of tiny Longleaf Pine seedlings throughout the Park. These majestic pines are reproducing once more.
Are there any Special Events in the Park?
As a public service, The Weeks Bay Foundation, Wetland Resources, Fred Nation -Nature Writer and Lecturer, and Green Nurseries continue to produce and sponsor a series of open-air lectures in the park that include, history, geology, pollinators, botanical artistry, and a myriad of topics related to the legacy of longleaf. Their Facebook page, “Friends of Knoll Park” can keep you apprised of future events.
How can we see the Park?
The Park is located just east of Henry George Park at the bluff above the Fairhope Municipal Pier and is bordered by Bayview Street and Fairhope and Magnolia Avenues and is reached easily on foot from Downtown Fairhope or by bike or automobile. Street parking surrounds the area. A simple series of Park paths lead visitors to a central gathering area at the highest rise – or knoll -- of the Park giving visitors a spectacular view of Mobile Bay, as well as an expansive view of the Park. Visitors assist the restoration effort by keeping to the paths while the fragile surroundings recover.
Signage interpreting the history and ecology of the Park are planned, as well as guided tours and other special events. The Park is envisioned as a teaching tool for area schools, as well as a place for Fairhope citizens and out-of-town visitors to experience the historic Sandhill Longleaf Pine Forests as they were prior to European settlement.
How can we help?
- Visit and become knowledgeable about the treasure that is our native longleaf forest and encourage your family members, friends and colleagues to do the same.
- Encourage and support its restoration as a passive-use area.
- Thank the City of Fairhope, the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation and the many volunteers who have participated in the project for their continued stewardship and dedication.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
In October 2018, the Mayor signed the Mayors’ Monarch Pledge sponsored by the National Wildlife Federation. The monarch butterfly population has decreased 90% over the past 20 years. The pledge requires taking action and reporting on those actions so that a national effort can be coordinated and recorded.
Also, in October 2018 the City Council passed a resolution supporting the Tree Committee’s recommendation that Knoll Park be declared a Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary and put aside funds for plants and seeds that would attract these magnificent butterflies.
Celebrate this special place in Fairhope where the harmony of truly natural surroundings can be appreciated for their simple splendor, and relish in the fact that we have a golden opportunity to salvage a remnant of that beauty that drew our founders here more than 100 years ago.
THE FAIRHOPE SINGLE-TAX COLONY (ORIGINAL DONOR OF THIS AND OTHER PARK LAND IN FAIRHOPE) AND THE CITY OF FAIRHOPE ARE THE PRINCIPAL SPONSORS OF THE RESTORATION PROJECT. COLLABORATORS INCLUDE THE WISTERIA GARDEN CLUB, THE FAIRHOPE TREE COMMITTEE, AND THE ALABAMA FORESTRY COMMISSION. PLANT SPECIALISTS GENA TODIA, HARRY LARSEN AND FRED NATION HAVE IDENTIFIED THE MANY PLANT SPECIES AT THE SITE AND HELPED IN OTHER RESTORATION WORK. MEMBERS OF THE KNOLL PARK RESTORATION COMMITTEE HAVE PLANNED AND CONDUCTED MUCH OF THE WORK. THEY INCLUDE THE LATE PEGGY DYSON (SINGLE TAX CORPORATION PROJECT CHAIRMAN and BOTANIST), BOBBY GREEN (LANDSCAPE DESIGNER AND NURSERYMAN), LIBBY McCAWLEY (MASTER GARDENER AND ARTIST), DOT YEAGER (REALTOR), MAE MOSS PARKER (WISTERIA GARDEN CLUB), JOHN PATE (GENERAL CONTRACTOR), JULIE PATE, TOM ELLIS (RETIRED FORESTER), MAC MaCAWLEY, (CPA), JENNIFER FIDLER (FORMER FAIRHOPE CITY HORTICULTURIST), PAUL SCOTT SLIGH (FORMER FAIRHOPE ELECTRICAL SUPERINTENDENT) AND THE LATE MIKE FORD (REALTOR AND CITY COUNCILMAN.) SPECIAL AND CONTINUED GRATITUDE TO MIKE SHELTON (WEEKS BAY NATURAL ESTUARINE RESEARCH RESERVE), JEFFREY DAVIES AND PATRICK WALDRIP (CERTIFIED BURN MANAGERS), BARRY GASTON (BUTTERFLY ENTHUSIAST), AND PAUL MERCHANT (CITY HORTICULTURIST.)
Published December 2018