The Alabama Nature Center (ANC) is an outdoor environmental education facility located in Millbrook, in southwestern Elmore County. Administered by the Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF), it offers educational programs and activities to students, educators, church and civic groups, and the general public.
ANC is located on the 350-acre former estate of Isabel and Wiley Hill, known as Lanark. Wiley Hill inherited the expansive grounds and the antebellum house on the grounds in 1948. In addition to building another house in which they lived on the property, the Hills cultivated a 30-acre garden that is still maintained by ANC. Isabel Hill continued to live in the home after her husband's death in 1995, and in 2001, upon her death, the estate was donated to the AWF. In 2003, the organization moved its headquarters to the Hills' former home.
In April 2008, the organization opened ANC, which comprises three distinctive areas on the grounds: Hilltop Pass, Still Creek Run, and Turkey Ridge. Each region is accessible by ANC's five miles of trails and each includes natural features such as forests, fields, ponds, and creeks. Throughout each region are trees such as cypresses, dogwoods, magnolias, maples, oaks, pines, sycamores, and various fruit trees.
The upland forests of the Hilltop Pass region include the highest elevations at ANC. Visitors to Hilltop Pass can view the exposed rock strata of the region's creek beds and enjoy the Tree Top Walk, ANC's scenic lookout. Low-lying wetlands comprise the Still Creek Run region, which is the site of many of ANC's water cycle-related educational activities. Finally, the large Turkey Ridge Trail region offers ANC's longest trails, with numerous loops that visitors can use to shorten or prolong their hikes. Because of Turkey Ridge Trail's topographical variety, the region also features ANC's greatest diversity of plant and animal life.
The garden surrounding AWF headquarters contains numerous spring-blooming plants, including azaleas, daffodils, and tulips. The garden is particularly notable for its thousands of blue hydrangea bushes, which Isabel Hill propagated from cuttings she received from her mother-in-law. Much of ANC's western portion has been designated as a wildlife sanctuary. Visitors can learn about ANC's natural features from interpretive signs posted along the facility's trails. ANC's architectural features include AWF headquarters; the Lanark Pavilion, an open-air venue for picnicking or environmental education programs; and the antebellum plantation house known as Historic Lanark.
Because ANC is a "planned-use" environmental education facility, it is largely reserved for school field trips, teacher training workshops, seminars, and other educational programs that are scheduled in advance with AWF. One of ANC's regular programs, Lanark Field Days, allows K–12 students to explore topics such as Alabama wildlife, the water cycle, and soil. In June and July, the Expedition Lanark Summer Day Camp provides additional hands-on outdoor learning experiences to campers.
During the third weekend of each month, ANC admits members of the general public wishing to walk the facility's trails. Some regular events also are accessible to the general public. Good Ole Days, held during the fall, includes hayrides, live music, hiking, and a pumpkin patch. Every year, Bass Pro Shops sponsors a fishing tournament that is held at Upper Pond in ANC's Still Creek Run region.
Grant D. Hiatt
Published August 8, 2011
Last updated August 8, 2011