The preserve was added to the Piedmont Plateau Birding Trail, which features 34 sites in east central Alabama, including Cheaha State Park, Lake Martin and Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson.
“One of the reasons Alabama has grown so much in birding is that it has a very unique set of habitats. … We’ve got the mountains in the north, the gulf shores in the south… and we’re on or near several migratory pathways,” said Lew Scharpf, a member of the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve advisory board and a long-time birder.
Scharpf said the Alabama Birding Trail nomination process was extensive. “I admire the birding trails for being so careful about officially designating sites. We had to submit information on our habitats, the types of birds that are seen here, the geological formations, the weather… just a number of different kinds of parameters and factors that are involved in calling birds,” he said.
“I was reading the other day that birding is one of the most popular outdoor activities in the United States today,” Scharpf said. “Something like 60 million birders that are going around different places or staying home trying to learn about birds.
“The state of Alabama is taking advantage of its natural resources with its birding trails to create birding opportunities for its citizens,” he said. “The Kreher Preserve is pleased to be a part of that mission given the growing interest in this outdoor activity.”
The 120-acre Kreher Preserve provides several bird habitat types, including pine, oak/hickory, bottomland hardwood and mixed pine/hardwood. There is also a stream, pond, wetland/marsh area and a waterfall. They provide food and shelter for about 80 native and migratory bird species throughout the year.
“The site was a former cotton field,” said Jennifer Lolley, the preserve’s outreach administrator. “It was owned by Dr. Louise Turner Kreher, an Auburn University physical education and dance teacher, who gifted the land to the university in 1993, as a resource for Auburn students to use for research, rest and relaxation.”
Shortly after Lolley was hired in 2008, she opened the preserve to the public. “I opened it up so that people could get in here and enjoy it,” Lolley said. “The 120 acres and six miles of trails are free and available to anybody, and our goal is to keep it that way.” The preserve is funded through Auburn University, the city of Auburn, the Auburn and Opelika Tourism Bureau, and private donations.
Lolley, the only full-time staff member, manages the site with support from one part-time naturalist, part-time teachers who help with programming, and local university and community volunteers.
In 2017, the preserve welcomed 30,000 visitors, including 6,000 schoolchildren, for programming, events and outdoor enjoyment. From popular nature programs, including “radical reptiles, birds’ beaks tweets and feet, and incredible insects” to the hiking trails, birdwatching, and the Southeast’s first nature playground with a life-sized eagle’s nest and spider’s web, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
“Our focus is environmental education,” Lolley said. “One of our goals here is to make kids have a pleasurable experience in nature and want to spend more time outdoors. … If we’ve done that, we’ve done our job.”
Research shows that if children are engaged in the outdoors at an early age, they will spend more of their adult life outside, Lolley said. “I think that’s the greatest gift I can give another human. … If you’re outside you’re healthier, you’re happier, because everything about the outdoors is geared to make us feel better,” she said.
In addition to relaxation and enjoyment, university students and professors often use the preserve as a site for research – from studying micro invertebrates in the pond twice a year, to studies of leaf litter, trees, bird feeders and bird seed types. The preserve has also been used as a site for bird banding – where birds are caught in very fine nets, information about each bird is recorded, their legs are banded, and they are released back into the wild.
According to Scharpf, the public can play a role in the scientific research of birds, through “citizen science.”
“Citizens can contribute to the science of birding,” said Scharpf. “As it turns out, professional birders, called ornithologists, who study birds as a full-time profession just can’t get around to see all the birds that are out there – the types and variations, feeding and nesting behavior, migratory patterns and how they move around… so citizens can help with that…. [they] make and submit reports of their observations, which help grow the bird knowledge base. Citizen science is a very important thing.”
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society manage an online citizen science program called, eBird, where recreational and professional bird watchers can record information about their bird observations in a global database. According to eBird, it is one of the largest and fastest growing biodiversity data resources in existence with over 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by birders around the world.
“We’re one of the few places that’s open to the public, that has a lot of facilities (parking, bathrooms), that make it nice for people to come out to look and [bird] watch,” Lolley said. “Our motto is learn at leisure … enjoy a hike, stop and read some of our education kiosks along the way, [and] hopefully come away enjoying yourself and learning more.”
The Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve is at 2222 North College Street, Auburn, AL 36860. It is open seven days a week, from sunrise to sunset. Admission is free to the public. Dogs, bicycles and smoking are not allowed.
Some upcoming events include:
– March 8: Adult Nature Hike-Geology
– March 12-14: Spring Break Camp-Auburn
– March 13: Family Discovery Walk-Geology
– March 19-21: Spring Break Camp-Opelika
– March 27: Spring Forest Friends Pre-School Program Begins
– April 10: Family Discovery Walk-Water Wonders
– April 21: Mosaic Tile Workshop
– May 8: Family Discovery Walk-Bluebirds
– May 29: Summer Ecology Camp begins
The Alabama Birding Trails program contains 280 sites in 65 counties.
The other nine sites added to the Alabama Birding Trail this year include: Heflin’s Cahulga Creek Park; Coosa County’s Flagg Mountain, near Weogufka; the Lee County Public Fishing Lake, near Opelika; Minooka Park, in Jemison; the Moss Rock Preserve, in Hoover; Shades Creek Greenway, in Homewood; Smith Mountain Fire Tower, near Dadeville; the Wehle Forever Wild Tract, near Midway; and the Yates Lake Forever Wild Tract, near Tallassee.