By Karim Shamsi-Basha
Butterflies are beginning to flutter along the banks of Village Creek.
If you had lived near Village Creek during the past century, you’d be well familiar with the repetitive flooding affecting more than 300,000 residents along the watershed.
Aside from those folks, not many in Birmingham are familiar with Village Creek. It runs 44 miles from Roebuck Springs and the East Lake area through North Birmingham, and down to the Black Warrior River. Known as the largest urban watershed in Alabama, it used to flood continually and caused much destruction to residents along its path.
The Village Creek Society was founded in 1980 to address the extensive flooding of the watershed, populated mostly by minorities. Other goals include increasing aquatic life along the creek,dormant due to commercial and manufacturing activity along its banks.
“Village Creek Society was founded on the premise of controlling the flooding in the western area of downtown in the early ’80s,’’ said Yohance Owens, the society’s executive director. “Along the way, activists around the community brought ‘compassion in activism’ in the western communities. Elected officials had done very little about the flooding. It took until 1999 to buy out the property and provide solutions.”
The Village Creek Society now strives to improve the quality of life for the residents along the creek through cleanups, education, workshops, stabilizing water banks, trails and parks, outdoor classrooms and much more.
“Village Creek Society works with other environmental projects like neighborhood cleanups and creek cleanups. We also do outdoor classrooms with Jackson-Olin High School, and participate in the Renew Our Rivers campaign and many other projects,” Owens said.
Residents in the Ensley area will soon enjoy a new Village Creek Linear Park and Trail. Establishing the trail has been a goal of Owens since he took his leadership position in the Village Creek Society two years ago. He is passionate about the trail and all of the many projects the society undertakes.
“Being with Village Creek Society is a dream job. It has given me the opportunity to give service, to be a learning incubator and the opportunity to learn from others in the same field,” Owens said. “We have to always stress important issues like sustainability.”
Like the butterflies along the creek bank, sustainability is a word that flutters around society meetings.
“Sustainability to me is investing in yourself. Many neighborhoods like to see good things like community gardens and nice flower beds near the walkways, but what they don’t realize is that it starts with them doing the work,” Owens said. “I’ve been to cleanups where not many volunteers come out, but the more and more I attend, I notice more locals coming out to help. We have to invest in ourselves.”