But that hasn’t always been the case, according to Former Cherokee County Soil and Water Conservation Employee Arlie Smith. Before the development of the Terrapin Creek Watershed, there were stories of waters covering highways, wagons washed off roads and mules drowned. And there were other environmental hazards caused by an “untamed Terrapin Creek” as well.
Smith discussed how the watershed’s development has vastly improved the quality of life for local citizens during a recent interview with the Herald.
The date was Sept. 10, 1971. A large crowd of citizens and public officials, according to reports, gathered near the Spring Garden area for the official dedication of the Terrapin Creek Watershed, a project which encompassed some 184,000 acres in Cherokee, Cleburne and Calhoun Counties in Alabama and Polk and Haralson Counties in Georgia. The culmination of years of research and hard work, it was labeled as a “project for the people and by the people.”
Phillip Abney, who is currently employed with the Cherokee County Soil and Water Conservation Service, said it was Public Law 566, which allowed for construction of the watershed structures on Terrapin Creek.
“Prior to the watershed structures being built, Terrapin Creek had a lot of discoloration from the erosion of runoff,” said Abney.
“Plus, any time you have any kind of runoff producing rainfall, you would get tremendous flooding all because the watershed of Terrapin Creek goes all the way into Polk and Harralson County, Ga. and you were picking up all of that acreage coming through Cherokee County. They wanted to build these watershed structures to reduce the flooding downstream that affected these areas.”
According to the program for the Sept. 10, 1971 ceremony, some of the solutions to address local watershed issues were as follows:
-Retarding structures were built across principal tributaries in the watershed to store floodwater and release it according to the capacity of the channels below.
-Channels were improved to increase their water carrying capacity.
-Grasses and legumes helped feed animals and man, provide income, beautify the environment, increase insoak of water and protect and enrich the soil.
Smith came to Cherokee County in 1953. He attended college on the G.I. Bill, beginning at Snead State Jr. College and later transferring to Auburn University where he majored in vocational agriculture. After completing his practice teaching in Lauderdale County, he was offered a job in Rainsville.
After deciding that teaching wasn’t for him, Smith took a test for the Soil and Water Conservation Department. His high score left him with three options and he first chose Cullman County.
“One of the representatives of the Soil and Water Conservation Service came to my garage apartment in Albertville and said ‘we have three locations we are looking for a man to fill,’” said Smith.
Smith initially chose Cullman. He then worked in Randolph and Lauderdale Counties before making the move to Cherokee County.
“When they hired me, they told me they were going to move me around to get experience in different parts of the state,” said Smith. “I worked in Lauderdale until 1953 and was transferred to this county and that is when I started working with all of these different groups here.”
Each of the five counties, Smith said, had conservation districts set up which consisted of local citizens. As a soil and water conservation service employee, Smith worked with these district representatives, who met with local landowners to ask them to sign certain easements and right-of-ways upon which watershed structures would be built.
At that time, Smith said, “We didn’t have a secretary or an adding machine.”
Smith recalls many excellent working relationships during his years with NRCS including James Gilliland, a technician for the Soil and Water Conservation Service. “James was instrumental in leading the crews and small pond construction,” said Smith.
Smith also has fond memories of Dewey Broom and other supervisors who were instrumental in securing Rural Conservation and Development funds for this area.
“We did work on every school ground in the county,” said Smith. “We made improvements in the recreation facilities, put pine bark under swings, did small drainage work on school grounds. We contributed to seeding of the right of way of the bypass. We wanted crimson clover because it was so pretty in the early part of the year. We did a lot of work on the golf course, making little walkways, little bridges. We also did work at Cornwall Furnace. We built the steps that go down to the Furnace.”
The 1971 dedication ceremony was the reward for their hard work. Noted among the dignitaries in attendance were W. A. Ellis Jr., chairman, Terrapin Creek Watershed Conservancy District; Rev. Elwin Elliott, superintendent, Cherokee County Board of Education; Wilbur B. Nolen Jr., executive secretary of the Alabama Soil Conservation committee representing Gov. George Wallace; Ralph Meade, chairman, Cherokee County Commission; Bill Nichols, congressman representing the Fourth Congressional District; and Tom Bevill, representing the Seventh Congressional District, among others.
The map at the time of the dedication shows the location of 10 flood retarding dams and where stream channels were improved. It showed the location of the watershed in relation to towns, highways and county and state lines.
The Terrapin Creek Watershed, as stated in the Sept. 10, 1971 brochure, has improved the quality of living by protecting and developing the resources in this densely populated rural county by:
-Reducing sedimentation and pollution
-Protecting and improving croplands
-Improving pasture conditions
-New woods and woodland management
-More and better recreation and wildlife areas
The Terrapin Creek Watershed directors at the time were W.A. Ellis Jr., chairman; W.G. Little, secretary-treasurer; Ed Williams, C.M. Garrett, Elbert Sanford, Reed Piper, W.S. Pollard, Ray Williams, E.C. Sharpe, John Be LaGarde and Luther Roberts.
The project was organized and developed under leadership of the Terrapin Creek Watershed Conservancy District and co-sponsored by the Calhoun County Soil and Water Conservation District, Cleburne County Soil and Water Conservation District, Cherokee County Soil and Water Conservation District, Coosa River Soil Conservation District, West Georgia Soil Conservation District, Cherokee County Commission, Cleburne County Commission and Calhoun County Commission assisted by the United States Department of Agriculture, Soil Conservation Service and other federal, state, local agencies and groups.
The current Cherokee County Soil and Water Conservation District Board of Supervisors is composed of W.A. Ellis Jr., Woodrow Rains, Merle Grimes, John Garmon and Howard D. Cowser Jr.
Abney and Smith credit them and their predecessors for giving of their time and effort toward the Terrapin Creek Watershed with no compensation.
Initially, Cherokee County Soil and Conservation representatives discussed dividing the Cherokee County district into two because the district was so large, at the time being the largest watershed project in the state. And the project has contributed to a better quality of life for many generations to
“I would like to say that if it hadn’t been for our local district, representing the local people, that this type of a program would never be put on the ground,” said Smith.
“It is a continuous thing,” said Smith. “As for my reason for working with soil conservation, I believe you could go back to the first chapter of Genesis in the Bible. The 10th verse says the water was divided into the seas and the land and the earth were formed. Further on it says the earth is God’s. I think this program is following some of the instructions there. The earth is the Lord’s and we are to be good stewards of it.”