JeffCo H2O: Get your green on!

The holidays are a time for celebrating family traditions and enjoying festive gatherings.  Unfortunately holidays also can have an unintended impact on the environment.  Take trash for example:  According to the Nature Conservancy, household waste in the US increases by more than 25% from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, and trash from gift wrap and gift bags alone totals 4 million tons annually.

No matter what holidays you celebrate, there are many ways to make them greener.  Getting creative when it comes to wrapping gifts can provide a second life to old newspaper, paper grocery bags, and gently used wrapping paper.  You can even eliminate paper wrap all together:  a scarf, t-shirt, reusable shopping bag, festive container, or other similar item can be used to wrap a gift.

jeffco gift wrap

sustainable t-shirt gift wraps

Choosing seasonal, locally grown foods means that your ingredients didn’t have to travel across the country to get to your point of purchase.  Heating several side dishes together and resisting the temptation to open the oven door to peek reduces energy use.  You can even strive for zero waste by using real dishes, cups, flatware and napkins rather than disposable goods and finding recipes that will help use up any leftover food.

According to the EPA, about 40% of all battery sales occur during the holiday season. Both disposable and rechargeable batteries can become an environmental hazard if they are not recycled and properly disposed.  While outdoor lighting displays can add to your home’s appearance, choosing LED lights and turning them off during the day will save energy.  For inside the home, opt for beeswax or soy candles rather than paraffin; they are made from renewable sources, burn longer and produce less soot.

Rather than purchasing pre-made decorations for your home, consider bringing the outdoors in and decorating using natural elements.  Sustainable arrangements and garlands made from seasonal fruit like apples and cranberries, dried flowers and pods, and fresh greenery such as holly, pine or magnolia branches from your yard look beautiful and smell great.  When it’s time to undeck the halls, these materials can be added to your compost pile.

jeffco cranberry candle

Cranberry Candle

Real or fake tree?  The debate goes on, but most experts agree that real trees are the more environmental choice.  The majority of cut trees are grown on farms as a crop, are replanted after harvesting, and can be recycled into mulch.  Many municipalities and some local businesses offer free tree recycling.  In some cases, the resulting mulch is used for parks, school grounds, and other public areas.

jeffco sustainable wreath

Sustainable Wreath Idea

Want to know how, where, or when to recycle something?  The Alabama Environmental Center’s website is a great local resource for information about most things recyclable.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203


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Holiday Hours

The Turkey Creek Nature Preserve will be closed for the following dates over the Holiday Season:
November 27th
December 24th
December 25th
January 1st

We hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season!

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JeffCoH20:Baked, broiled, grilled or fried

More than 3,000 miles of sanitary sewer lines serve 480,000 people in Jefferson County.  This vital function makes it possible for customers to rise in the morning, get ready for work or school, and not have to think about what happens to their waste water after showering, brushing teeth, or flushing!  One challenge to the operation of the sanitary sewer system is the buildup of fats, oils, and grease – FOG – in the sewer lines.  Over time, these substances can create clogs and result in backups that cause sewage to overflow into homes, yards, streets, and waterways.  Not only are these events costly to repair, they also can be a health hazard.  One main source of FOG in the sewer system is households. 

Dirty dishes in sink

No matter what you cook or how you cook it, there usually is some fat, oil or grease involved in the process.  When the holiday meals are over and it’s time to wash the stack of plates, pots, pans, and casserole dishes piled in the sink, take a few minutes to make sure that FOG doesn’t wash down the kitchen drain.  Even if you have a garbage disposal or use hot water and detergent, it will not prevent FOG buildup in your plumbing or the sewer system.  If you are connected to a septic system, a similar scenario applies – FOG can build up and cause your septic system to malfunction.  

The good news is that the solution is easy!  Discard in the trash unwanted food scraps from plates and cookware.  Any remaining FOG can be cooled and poured or scraped into a plastic or metal container with a lid and taken to the nearest Jefferson County cooking oil recycling station.  New recycling containers are available to you for free at all recycling stations.  Preventing FOG from going down the drain can go a long way toward reducing plumbing emergencies and unhealthy sewer overflows.

Proper FOG disposal

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203


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JeffCoH2O: Dirt, only better


Some people call it organic fertilizer.  Others go so far as to call it black gold.  Whatever the name, compost is a free, renewable source of rich, nutrient dense material that can be used in multiple ways in your yard.  Compost is the natural result of decomposing organic materials and contains a variety of nutrients that plants need to grow.  Organisms such as earthworms, beetles and snails munch away on these organic materials and break them down into smaller bits.  Microscopic bacteria and fungi go to work on the leftovers and handle the chemical end of decomposing.  Even though it sounds icky, the result is a rich topsoil-like blend of exactly what most plants need to thrive.

Starting a compost pile at home is not difficult, does not require much space and, depending upon weather conditions, can yield usable compost in as little as a few weeks.   All you need to get started is an area in which to contain the materials, a combination of green and brown organic waste, some water and air, occasional stirring of the ingredients, and some patience.  Materials you can use to start composting are not hard to find – look no further than your yard and kitchen.  Rather than sending yard debris such as grass clippings, leaves, and small branches, and kitchen waste such as vegetable and fruit scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds to the landfill, compost them instead.  With our relatively mild winters here in Alabama, composting can continue year-round.  Once your compost pile has transformed into dark, crumbly material, and you can’t identify any of the original ingredients, it is ready to use.

Besides being a rich organic fertilizer, compost also can help transform clay or sandy soil into a more plant friendly composition, increase the soil’s ability to retain moisture, prevent weeds from growing, and reduce stormwater runoff.  According to the EPA, for every1% that you increase your soil’s organic content, you also increase its water absorption capacity by 16,000 gallons of water per acre, down to one foot deep.  The beneficial organisms that compost introduces to your soil help perpetuate the benefits of composting by continuing the cycle of organic decomposition.  Fall is the perfect time to install new plants, trees and shrubs in your yard, and the availability of your homemade compost will provide numerous benefits to any landscape additions you make.  Check out Alabama Cooperative Extension’s publications Backyard Composting and Commonly Asked Questions to learn more!

What’s happening?

 Birmingham Botanical Gardens Fall Plant Sale – October 18 -19 – Shop for herbs, trees, native plants, and more!  Call 414.3965 or visit for details.

Electronic Recycle Day – October 22 – Bring unwanted electronics to Linn Park from 6 am to 2 pm for FREE recycling.  No white goods (washers, dryers, etc.).  Call 787.5222 for more information.

Recycling & Waste Reduction Summit – October 30 – Learn how businesses, schools, and communities are tackling waste reduction in innovative ways.  Contact Alabama Environmental Council for information.

Lyn DiClemente
Jefferson County Department of Storm Water Management
B-210 Jefferson County Courthouse Annex
716 Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. North
Birmingham, AL  35203


Posted in JeffCoH20

Exploring Pinson’s Legacy: More Historical Indifference

In this month’s article, I will continue the rant started in July (hey, I’ve got to get it out of my system somehow…).

Last month, I focused on the lack of interest that far too many people have in their town’s or area’s history. This month, I want to drill down further into two additional categories; first, people who don’t seem care about the history or genealogy of their own family, and second, those people who like to think they know something, but haven’t bothered to do the work needed to ascertain the facts.

A case in point… Recently, I happened to overhear a person discussing, in great detail, a recent conversation during which some facts regarding their family’s role in the history of a local town had come into question. It apparently involved a disagreement between this person and a local historian who had written something in opposition to the first person’s beliefs about their family history.

Now, who was right? (Maybe, the better question is who was correct?) I don’t know and I don’t really need (or want) to know… Taking sides is not the point. But, for the sake of clarity, let’s look at what we think we “know” in this case…

First, let’s talk about the person whose family history is at issue. In this case, the person had heard various anecdotes and stories over the years from older family members that led to the beliefs that they have. It’s likely that most people take such conversations pretty much at face value and simply file them away as memories.

In the first case, someone is not interested in learning more about their family history… they are not interested in pursuing or questioning the stories. They do not take steps to dig into their family history and learn more about it. Maybe they find boxes of old photos or bundles of letters belonging to their grandmother… “OK, nothing valuable here, so just throw them out”. (These are often the same people who are prone to tear old buildings down for no other reason than they are old buildings – they do not see value in things that happened in the past). If others in the family want to play around in the branches of the family tree, they aren’t interested in taking part; and usually they are bored to the point of being comatose.

In the second case, the person takes significant pride in their family’s history. However, as in the first case, they do not delve further into the accounts they have heard from their forebears. In other words, “Granddad said it, I believe it, that settles it” or “I believe what I believe, don’t confuse me with the facts”.  Aside from what I view as a lack of curiosity, such a perspective results in an inability to look at the past, our community’s past, our family’s past square in the eye. When we fail in this, we discard any chance of seeing our history, and what we can learn from it, in all of its dimensions.

Now, on to the local historian… If they’ve done the appropriate due diligence, they should have some degree of objective documentation (newspaper articles, journal entries, etc.) that substantiates the historical position they are taking. Any good local historian will typically try to corroborate this information with other sources, in order to learn as much as possible about the event or person. Again, any good historian worth their salt will document the anecdotes, stories, tall tales, or urban legends that may accompany the particular occurrence. This allows the history to be a genuinely multi-faceted experience rather than simply a dry, single-sided litany of facts.

So, on a scale of 1 to 10 measuring interest in their about family history, the first case would seem to indicate a rating of 1-2, while the second would maybe rate a 9-10.

In both cases, however, what is missing, at the very least, is a willingness to think critically or objectively about their family’s history. Granted, such a willingness brings with it somewhat of an obligation to accept whatever they may learn (“if you’re not willing to accept the answer, don’t ask the question”). However, what is even more dangerous is there is an unwillingness to look at the past, warts and all, in an effort to learn from the experiences we collectively had, both the good and the bad. As anyone whose has read these blogs previously knows, I am a proponent of never editing our history – it is what it is… such a practice may be discomforting, but it allows us to learn so much more about our past and “forces” us to view our history as it really was, not what we wish it would be.

Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of working closely with a local Italian-American Heritage Society on an exhibit at Vulcan highlighting the contributions of Italian-Americans in early Birmingham. This group of immigrants came to America with little more than dreams and hopes of making a better life. Most Italian immigrants did not know the language or culture of their new country and were often treated with disdain and racial prejudices akin to those imposed on African-Americans by the white-dominated society of the time. There were numerous questions (and perceived concerns) as to whether Italians could be considered “white”. They were subjected to racial slurs and often forced to live in what amounted to “buffer zones” between whites and blacks. They were typically relegated to menial jobs and were often not given their due in terms of civil rights. Coupled with a prevalent anti-Catholic wave sweeping the country at the end of the 19th century and into the early years of the 20th century, Italians were often denigrated and were the target of jokes and conspiracy theories alike. As a result, they often “circled the wagons” and became somewhat of an insular community with a strong sense of church and family.

I have come to both admire and appreciate the members of the Italian-American community. Not only are they enthusiastic about their history and culture, they fully embrace the realities of their past, both good and bad. And while the injustices of the past are not good memories, they recognize that those experiences helped make them the people they are, with a great love for family, church, community, and a passion for life.

For those interested, the Italian-American exhibit at Vulcan, entitled “La Storia” will open beginning Friday, September 19 at Vulcan Park and Museum and will be in place until September 2015..

This article is intended to provide accurate historical information to a general audience. Material contained herein is gathered from reputable online and traditional sources, but unless otherwise noted, is not the result of original scholarship or research by the author.

-E. E. (Skip) Campbell, Ph.D.

Skip Campbell retired from UPS in early 2012 after 38 years as a senior manager, working in numerous locations in the United States and abroad, with primary responsibilities in operations and industrial engineering. He received his BS degree in Applied Science and Operations Analysis from the University of Alabama and holds Master’s degrees in Engineering Management, Quality and Management,. Skip holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Development, with concentrations in Organizational Theory and Macroergonomics. Skip is a Senior Member of the Institute of Industrial Engineers and sits on the Board of Visitors for the College of Continuing Studies at the University of Alabama. Since retiring, Skip serves as an Adjunct Professor with the College of Continuing Studies (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) at the University of Alabama and focuses his academic research efforts on the area of pre-20th century Alabama history. Skip belongs to a number of historical and cemetery preservation associations. He and his wife Denise have 3 grown children and 2 grandchildren.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are the views of the individual author(s) and do not reflect the views or policies of the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve or it’s partners. We do not guarantee the source, originality, accuracy, completeness or reliability of any statement, information, data, finding, interpretation, advice, opinion, or view presented on the website, nor does it make any representation concerning the same.

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TCNP Currents: The Future of Turkey Creek

Have you visited Turkey Creek Nature Preserve this year or in the last few years?

If you have, you are not alone! Every year approximately 100,000 families, kids, and outdoor enthusiast pass through our gates. With that many people visiting TCNP, you would think that donations would be arriving daily. Unfortunately that is far from the truth. Sadly, we almost never receive donations from the public. We have worked very hard to develop an experience for our guests that is unique in the state of Alabama and are constantly working to add new features that will further enhance that experience. However, in doing so, we have come up short in helping our visitors understand how we operate. The truth is that without more public support, TCNP could be forced to close its gates one day for good!

You may wonder why we do not charge admission. That is a very good question that does not have a simple answer. One of the problems with this suggestion is that we cannot pay someone to collect it. We only have 1 person on staff and spend money on materials only when they are absolutely necessary. Furthermore, TCNP is owned by State Lands (not state parks), meaning that we cannot collect admission. Even if we did charge admission, it would not go towards funding the Preserve specifically, but instead go to the Alabama state general fund. We do receive some support through grant funding, which we work extremely hard to obtain. But those grants do not keep fuel in the lawnmowers, pay for trash bags, or pay our manager.

Many of our visitors assume that we receive government funding. This is only partially true. We do receive about 30% of our annual budget from the City of Pinson, but the remaining 70% of our funding comes from the source that was originally developed to help start up the Preserve (check out the infographic below for more about TCNP funding). This source was never intended to last more than 1 or 2 years, however, we have stretched it out for over 5 years (which is in no small part due to the support from the City of Pinson)! Unfortunately, this source is just about gone and we are left with only one more year of funding. This is a pretty scary situation for everyone that is involved, and we have been working tirelessly to come up with a solution. The reality is, however, that if we do not start receiving more support from the people that use the Preserve, it might not continue to be available to them. This all comes across very dramatic, but it is true and something no one wants to see happen.

To put this into perspective, consider this: TCNP’s annual operational budget is only $60,000, which is 1/10th of the budget of other comparable parks/nature areas (like Ruffner Mountain or Red Mountain). While we would love to have more, so that we can provide more, this is only the bare minimum that we need to operate, and we do not have it.

So really, the only solution is for you to get involved! Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is a public place that benefits the public. Just like any other freely provided service, it is up to you to show how much it is worth to you. Even if you cannot give a lot, you should still consider giving, because if everyone who used the Preserve gave just a little, we would have no problems reaching our funding needs.

To find out how you can help please visit:

TCNP infographic 02-01


 See ya downstream!

Charles Yeager

Manager, Turkey Creek Nature Preserve


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Discovering Turkey Creek

Look for new program offerings coming soon at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve.  We will be doing guided interpretive hikes every 3rd Sunday to explore the ecology and beauty of Turkey Creek.  This is a chance for folks to tune in a little deeper and learn new things about our public lands.  Our first Discovering Turkey Creek Hike will be “All for Fall” a wildflower hike through the riparian zone at Turkey Creek where we will learn names and some fun facts about fall wildflowers.  

.Turkey Creek Please come out and join us on Sunday, Sept 21 at 3pm.  Meet at the Falls parking area. 5$ donation requested.

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