Tensaw Delta & Alabama River Bluffs

The Mobile River basin is the highway of American life. It’s no accident that the great cities of pre-Columbian America, the European conquest, Civil War and Civil Rights were all centered in one of the world’s richest regions of aquatic and forest diversity.

We believe this basin and the rivers and forests that feed it are critical to understanding America’s origins and preserving its biological and cultural richness. That’s why we’re working with federal, state and local partners to develop a major conservation and historic preservation corridor. The priority area includes some six million acres in an area the size of Vermont, stretching along more than 200 miles of the Mobile and Alabama rivers, from the great wilderness of the Mobile Tensaw Delta to the haunting Black Belt region of central Alabama.

Within that area are many of the nation’s most important First Nation, Civil War and Civil Rights sites, embedded in deep forests and open prairies that support the greatest diversity of tree species in North America, the greatest concentration of turtle diversity in the Western Hemisphere, and likely the greatest overall aquatic diversity in the temperate world.

The scope of such a project is daunting, but the gateways to this region are already in place, waiting for an opportunity to be shared with the nation and the world.

WHY HERE?

Natural History
This is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the temperate world.

• Aquatic diversity in the Mobile basin is unparalleled in North America, with more than 300 species of fish, the greatest concentration of turtle diversity in the Western hemisphere, and the world’s greatest concentration of mussel, aquatic snail and crawfish species.
• The Mobile Tensaw Delta, at the mouth of the system, is arguably the richest and best preserved Delta in the continental U.S., including more than 250,000 acres of wilderness.
• Terrestrial diversity within the region is just as significant, with one of the highest concentrations of endemic plant and animal species in the nation, and an exceptionally high number of total species, indicating its importance as a long-term climate refuge and a nursery for biodiversity.
• The center of oak diversity in North America (north of Mexico) extends along the Alabama River, and the nation’s centers of magnolia and hickory diversity also overlap the basin. A single bend in the river may support twice as many oak species (24+) as the entire central Appalachian floristic province.
• Most upland areas are dominated by the longleaf pine ecosystem, likely the most biodiverse forest system in North America. That’s one of the reasons why this region of the Gulf Coast also supports the greatest concentration of grass species in eastern North America, one of the richest assemblies of carnivorous plant species in the world, and hyperdiverse savannas and bogs containing as many as 50 to 60 species of vascular plants per square meter.
• Early scientific exploration of the region’s unusual geological exposures and fossils played a key role in the first formulation of deep geological time by Charles Lyell – which became the backbone of the evolutionary principles developed by his friend, Charles Darwin. Lyell toured the river and wrote extensively about what he found there, including the great Tertiary period fossil beds of the Red Hills region. Fittingly, the father of modern biodiversity theory, E.O. Wilson, developed his love of biodiversity as he grew up and studied here.

Human History
The Alabama River is the river of American experience. It is impossible to comprehend the exploration and exploitation of America, to understand the rise and destruction of America’s first nations or the tragedy of Civil War and the promise of Civil Rights, if we don’t expose and appreciate what happened here.

• The Mobile Tensaw Delta includes some of the earliest human-occupied sites on the Gulf Coast, dating back thousands of years. Hundreds of shellmound villages, occupied and developed over millennia, are an archaeological treasure trove, and even support garden remnants and rare plants that shed new light on prehistoric life in North America.
• The largest Mississippian city on the northern Gulf Coast is still visible in the middle of the Delta’s jungle-like swamps and forests. The stunning scale of this 1,000-year-old architecture is breathtaking, with towering temple mounds, a sprawling public plaza, and an intricate network of canals. It was likely the descendants of this city that waged the first and arguably the bloodiest major battle against European incursion in North America, as DeSoto met Tascalusa’s warriors on the river banks at Mauvilla.
• The Red Stick rebellion that ultimately doomed all Eastern tribes to removal and enshrined Andrew Jackson’s Indian policies for more than a century was forged and fought in this basin. The Creek Red Stick’s first utopian “prophet town” at Holy Ground, the site of the Fort Mim’s “massacre” that riled Indian opponents nationwide, and the infamous Battle of Horseshoe Bend that effectively crushed the Indian revival — all took place on the banks of this basin.
• Mobile, at the river’s mouth, is one of the country’s oldest European settlements, the oldest major city still extant on the Northern Gulf, the home of the first Mardi Gras celebration in the New World. The legendary richness of the region’s soils and bottomlands supported one of the greatest accumulations of wealth in mid-19th century America, and made Selma and Montgomery the agricultural, manufacturing and political capitals of the Confederacy.
• Modern slavery was pioneered in this basin and dominated its politics for hundreds of years, first as the British and French promoted a devastating slave trade among the First Nations, and culminating with the African slave trade that made the region the center of Confederate resistance and a prime target for the Civil Rights movement.
• The Clothilde, the last slave ship to dock in North America, unloaded on the banks of the Mobile Tensaw Delta, where its descendants founded the legendary (and still extant) community of Africatown. There is some evidence that the remains of the Clothilde have been discovered in the river.
• The last battle of the Civil War, at Blakeley on the banks of the Delta, was won after a celebrated assault by U.S. Colored Troops, an assault that reverberated through the political battles of Reconstruction.
• Martin Luther King fought and won his own most significant battles here, marching along the Alabama River from Selma to Montgomery, even as Stokely Carmichael was organizing and sheltering the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (a k a, the first Black Panther Party) in the same river-side fields where the Creek Red Sticks had built their utopian village 150 years earlier.