Friday, November 7, 2014

Knoll Park Compromise Plan Finally Underway

Fairhope, Alabama


City Public Works crews have been busy this week installing landscaping around Knoll Park, part of a plan designed by local landscape architect Joe Comer approved about a month ago by the city council that is hoped to be an acceptable compromise between those who want the whole park kept "natural" with little maintenance -- and those who want it maintained the same as all other city parks.

Various types of native shrubs, small trees, ground-cover and other plants will be installed around the park's perimeter to screen-off  and transition to what some call "the weeds" within -- but to others are various species of interesting wildflowers, natural to the original sandhill long-leaf pine ecosystem.

A pervious sidewalk will be installed from the park's northeast corner to the top of the knoll, to comply with federal disability access laws.

A short entrance-staircase will be added at the southwestern tip, according Comer's design (see it at bottom).


As things stand now,  prescribed burning will resume next spring (early March?): a necessity for the growth of the native plants under the trees. (Burning is not so important for the trees themselves.)

The regular burning (every 2 - 4 years, at various times of the year) was a part of the Maintenance Plan also adopted by the city council; but there is a possibility the council could decide to revisit the issue before then -- and remove it from the plan (by majority vote).

Mayor Kant told the Times the burns will happen, unless the council decides otherwise.


According some long-time residents, the controversy has been ongoing for many years, generally with the Fairhope Single Tax Corporation advocating for natural growth; and the city for more routine maintenance.

Over the years, there have been various proposals to develop the property in some ways as well, always opposed by the FSTC.

The FSTC deeded the property to the city in 1930, stipulating it was to be kept as parkland.

The future of the park has been in doubt for the past two years, after the current city council took office in 2012: the restoration project began in 2007.


Last weekend, local historian Donnie Barrett and a group of proponents who have been working on the project gave a long-leaf ecosystem seminar at the park.

Barrett told the crowd the area had been mostly clear-cut at least twice before the city's Founders arrived in 1894: and displayed a  cutting from a 134 yr old tree that was finally cut down in 2007, about 100 yards to the south, on the old Colonial Inn property.

Barrett said the trees in the area were used since the French-era began in 1711 for pitch, turpentine, lumber, and as firewood ("pine knots").

Donnie Barrett

Fred Nation also talked about the various uses of the trees over the years for turpentine, resin, tar and pitch -- and how the early "tapping" methods "decimated" the trees.

Fred Nation

Gina Todia talked about the many species of plants growing under the trees and how fire-dependent  the ecosystem there is for adding nutrients and managing the growth of invasive exotic species (cogon grass, Chinese privet, campor tree, etc.) -- as well as some problematic native plants (smilax vine, winged sumac, etc.)

Besides fire, some herbicide use and mechanical controls (cutting, digging up) will also be necessary, she and Nation said.

Gina Todia

Afterwards, the two took the group on a tour of the park to identify some of the plants.

Knoll Park Tour



Anonymous said...

We hope the old Fairhopers who are so worried about thiss can finally work this out and cease all of the silly arguing back and forth.

Anonymous said...

A buffer hedge isn't the worst idea. For those in the know (locals) it creates a pleasant "secret garden" area to view nature as it once was. For those who don't care, the hedges will blend in with the rest of the town. Sounds like a solid compromise.