Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer|
Mark Kolinski spends most of his days mapping the portion of Bankhead’s canyons that are not under a protective prescription for non logging. While 100 miles of the canyons are mapped, an estimated 300 to 400 miles are still unidentified.
It’s man versus wilderness on mission to preserve canyons in Bankhead National Forest
By Danielle Komis Palmer
Mark Kolinski is a hunter.
Sweat drips down his face and glasses as he trudges through thick leaves to the top of a ridge near Montgomery Creek in Bankhead National Forest on a humid Monday morning. His T-shirt is already soaked with sweat; his thick brown pants covered in briars and seeds.
More than 180,000 acres of wilderness stretch in front of him — acres packed with ticks, poison ivy, briars and snakes. Through dense leaf cover, he struggles to make out the lay of the land.
His conquest? Not an eight-point buck or champion turkey.
Kolinski’s prey doesn’t move. It lies silent, hidden in Bankhead’s expanse of trees and undergrowth. The great canyons of Bankhead lurk there, known only to the few who have grown up in these woods. Armed with a hand-held Global Positioning System, a walkie-talkie, a voice recorder and enough food and water for at least seven hours, Kolinski is determined to find the canyons and map them.
Room to explore
Kolinski’s hunt is part of a canyon mapping project launched by Moulton-based environmental watchdog group Wild South, in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. Once the canyon areas are identified, they can be placed under a new, increased level of protection.
While 100 miles of Bankhead’s canyons are mapped, an estimated 300 to 400 miles are still out there unidentified. That is, until Kolinski finds them.
Kolinski, whose background is in forestry, began working for Wild South when its grant money doubled 11/2 years ago and his part-time position was created. Funding for the project is provided by the National Forest Foundation, the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation and the Fund for Wild Nature.
An avid outdoorsman already in good shape, Kolinski enjoys the concentration and physical exertion the job requires.
“It challenges me,” said Kolinski, who lives in Landersville. “I have to have someplace to put my mental and physical energy.”
The canyons haven’t been properly mapped until now because the task is tedious and requires trudging through the forest, creating GPS waypoints for canyon areas and writing field observations.
In some overgrown areas, it takes Kolinski six hours to cover only two miles. When he’s not in the forest, he is in the office, uploading information into mapping software and spreadsheets.
But Kolinski is patient. It’s a virtue he must possess to cheerfully work on such a grueling project — a project he estimates is still only half finished. Before Kolinski was hired, volunteers and Stanback internship recipients from Duke University performed the canyon mapping work.
Courtesy photo/Wild South|
Stewart Horn, a Wild South volunteer, in the Davis Drainages east of Sipsey River. A grant is helping Mark Kolinski, not pictured, map the canyons in Bankhead National Forest to preserve and return the areas to old growth forests.
The “desired future condition” — a term used by the U.S. Forest Service in its restoration plans — of the canyons and their surrounding areas is to return the areas to old growth forests. A new, specific “canyon prescription” for Bankhead’s unique canyons was included in the forest service’s 2004 restoration plan.
That canyon prescription was largely formulated by Lamar Marshall, executive director of Wild South, more than 10 years ago before it came to fruition. Years of meetings with other citizens helped shape the new prescription.
Few, if any, national forests in the Southeast have a prescription specifically for canyons, Marshall said, largely because there aren’t many miles of canyons in the Southeast.
“The canyons are so geologically unique,” Marshall said. “They’re the premiere part of the Bankhead Forest. They have plant life in them that no area in Alabama has.”
Marshall has been an outspoken advocate for Bankhead since the early 1990s when loggers clear-cut trees at sacred site Indian Tomb Hollow, and he and other citizens sued the forest service for mismanagement.
Now, years later, Wild South and the U.S. Forest Service have an amicable relationship in which they work together to preserve and restore the forest, Marshall said.
Glen Gaines, Bankhead district ranger, said these types of relationships with nonprofit groups have expanded in the past five to seven years and have benefited both parties.
“That’s the way that we really do business now,” he said. “It’s just the reality of the job being so complex ... the more folks you have interested and dedicated, the better off you’re going to be.”
Facing forest head-on
While many different groups are dedicated to the preservation of the forest, few face the wilderness head-on like Kolinski. And not everyone could.
The first time he went out on the project, he overdid it and limped out of the forest.
“My legs were cramping up so bad by the time I got back to the truck I had to stop several times,” he said. “It was brutal, absolutely brutal.”
Now, he knows his limits and is in even better shape. But despite the foe he faces in the forest, he finds peace and satisfaction in the canyon mapping project.
“The forest service is headed in a new direction in terms of policy and the way they manage our public lands, our forest in particular,” he said. “The forest service is beginning to look more at the forest as an ecosystem and not as a tree farm, and I’m very pleased to be a part of that.”
Ready to brave the woods?
If you want to help with the canyon mapping project or other environmental projects, contact Wild South at 974-6166 or e-mail outreach coordinator Janice Barrett at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to offer input on Bankhead’s future?
What: Bankhead liaison quarterly meeting, open to the public
Where: Moulton Recreation Center, Alexander Park
When: July 26, 6 to 9 p.m.
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