Spain Park students learn about Cahaba River system

NORTH SHELBY – Spain Park High School students recently learned there is an ecological gem close to home.

Students from teacher Jean Gillespie’s Advanced Placement environmental science classes took tours of Little Cahaba River, facilitated by the Cahaba River Society, to learn about the array of wildlife supported by the river system and its importance to the region.

Seniors Barrett Bennett and Emily Colpack, and junior Kristen Engel were among the students who visited the river recently.

The students said they put in their canoes about a quarter of a mile from an old bridge that crosses the river at Cahaba Beach Road.

Cahaba River Society provided guides at the front and back of the line of canoes, which occasionally stopped to talk about different aspects of the river and its importance.

Bennett said he has visited the river since his childhood and said he hopes efforts to preserve it are successful.

“It’s something I wouldn’t want to take away from anybody else,” Bennett said.

Colpack said she thinks it is important for people to visit the area themselves.

“I wouldn’t have been so attached emotionally if I hadn’t gone and seen it myself,” she said.

Engel said she enjoyed spending time with classmates outside the typical school setting.

“It was a good bonding day with our class,” she said.

Other classes took a walking tour instead of canoes. All trips included seining the river for fish and talking about the varieties, measuring water quality and discussing the role the river plays in the region, and searching for macrovertebrates whose presence are indicative of the ecosystem’s health.

Gillespie said students are usually surprised by the wildlife supported by a river that is located in a relatively urbanized part of the state.

“You’re really not that far from civilization, but it’s a big enough chunk of land that it can support all these species,” Gillespie said.

Randall C. Haddock with Cahaba River Society said such educational trips are typical for the organization every day during the spring, summer and fall months. Elementary, middle and high schools throughout the area have scheduled trips for the past 15 years or so.

Haddock said it is important to ensure the students—many of whom have never canoed or waded through a river—feel safe and have fun.

“An education outing is much more effective if it’s fun,” Haddock said. “We’re trying to make students aware that Alabama is a remarkable place in regards to the things that live in these rivers. We have many more of these species than most other places. I’m proud of it. It’s pretty special.”