(New Albany, Mississippi, February 2019)
Robert Ballard, New Albany native, horticulturist, and owner of Camp Creek Native Plants recently took a group through an area of the Tanglefoot Trail to investigate the possible existence of a vernal pool. Drawn by the sight of a large cypress tree, Ballard discovered the potential pool last fall hidden under an open canopy of cypress, water birch, and eastern cottonwoods.
Vernal pools are a part of the wetland ecosystem but have a unique characteristic. Though they are called “pools,” these areas typically are on an annual cycle, meaning that they only contain water from late fall until mid-summer and are dry the remainder of the year. These pools are absent of fish, but provide a vital ecosystem for organisms such as salamanders, newts, fairy shrimp, and frogs.
“Given the tremendous potential of preserving natural habitat and developing an educational asset, this project can be part of our economic development strategy for New Albany,” said Billye Jean Stroud, Director of Community Development for New Albany. “I invited M Partner representatives from the University of Mississippi to visit the site and determine opportunities for collaboration.”
Joining Ballard and Stroud on the February 25th exploratory visit were community and University of Mississippi partners, including Tracy Vainisi with the New Albany Main Street Association; Michaela Cooper, M Partner VISTA and Laura Martin, M Partner Director and Assistant Director of the McLean Institute; Ann Fisher-Wirth, Professor of English and Director of the Environmental Studies Minor; Marjorie Holland, Professor Emerita of Biology; and Jay Watson, Howry Professor of Faulkner Studies.
“M Partner seeks to align university expertise with community-driven projects,” stated Laura Martin, M Partner Director and Associate Director of the McLean Institute. “It was exciting to be one of the first people to visit the vernal pool site, and consider how our students and faculty can be involved in exploring this project so that it benefits the community of New Albany and beyond.”
The group of 9 hiked the roughly half-mile trail of mud and flood debris to the pool site, greeted by cypress knees along the way. An extensive area of standing water, not present during Ballard’s initial discovery, gave the indication that the group had arrived at the vernal pool. This visit produced conversations centered around future educational benefits, additional attractions along the Tanglefoot Trail, and curriculum on vernal pools to benefit the state of Mississippi. Presently, there are no toolkits on vernal pool preservation for the state.
To learn more about the vernal pool site, future plans include observing wildlife activity through trail cameras and sampling of the surrounding soil and water.