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The Alabama Mountains, Rivers & Valleys RC&D Council, Inc. (Council), formerly the Tennessee Valley RC&D Council, includes eight counties located along the Tennessee River in Northeastern Alabama. These counties are Cullman, DeKalb, Jackson, Lawrence, Limestone, Madison, Marshall, and Morgan. The area covers 5,810 square miles or 3,718,499 acres, which is a little more than 11% of the State’s land area.
Counties in the Council are partners in the Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments or the North Alabama Regional Council of Governments. The Council is also included in the Appalachian Regional Commission program area.
Resource Conservation and Development
Soils & Geology
The four major geologic regions in the council area are the Highland Rim and Pennyroyal, Southern Appalachian Ridges and Valleys, Sand Mountain and the Cumberland Plateau and Mountains. The eastern half of the area is mountainous, being the southern end of the Appalachian Mountain chain. The western part of the council is often flat with low rolling hills.
The soils of the Tennessee Valley vary with the topography and parent material. In the northern half of Limestone county and the Northwestern parts of Madison county, which are in the Highland Rim and Pennyroyal regions, we have limestone soils. These soils are well suited for crop production. In the Cumberland Plateau and mountain region of eastern Madison and western Jackson counties the soils have a sandstone basis and are often steep and subject to erosion. The soils of the Southern Appalachian Ridges & Valleys, found in Madison, southern Limestone, the river valley parts of Jackson, Northern Marshall, Morgan & Lawrence counties, are a mix of sandstone & limestone soils and support a productive agricultural economy. Finally the Sand Mountain region: consisting of Cullman, DeKalb, southern Lawrence, Marshall & Morgan counties and the eastern part of Jackson county, has primarily shallow soils derived from the sandstone cap rock.
The Tennessee River provides a minimum nine-foot deep, 200 feet wide channel running for 144 miles within the Council area, permitting economical transportation of heavy materials. Access to the Mississippi River system is provided to the north by the Ohio River. The region has convenient access to the Gulf of Mexico through the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The river’s 104,962 surface acres also offers recreational opportunities to local people as well as visitors from throughout the world.
State and Federal lands provide the public with recreational opportunities from wilderness hiking to stream bank family picnics. Bankhead National Forest provides 82,000 acres in Lawrence County. Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge offers excellent waterfowl viewing opportunities. Russell Cave National Monument is the oldest discovered site of settlement in the southeast and the Little River Canyon Area offers spectacular vistas and high adventure opportunities. Five state parks provide outdoor recreation for residents and tourists. They are: Cathedral Caverns, Lake Guntersville, DeSoto, Buck’s Pocket, and Monte Sano.
The region enjoys a subtropical climate with hot summers and warm winters. An average of 54 inches of rain falls yearly. It is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The area has a growing season of 207 days in eastern mountains and 225 in the western counties. Some snowfall is common during most winters but rarely remains on the ground for more than a day or two. A 5-10 inch snowstorm usually occurs somewhere in the Council area each year. The Council area is subject to frequent damaging tornadoes.
There are four main forest types in the Tennessee Valley, oak hickory (56.4%), pine (19.9%), oak-pine (5.4%) and finally oak-gum-cypress (8.3%). The forests of the Valley are increasing in volume, that is, regrowth exceeds cutting. Also the forested area of the Valley is increasing, chiefly due to the reduction of land in production agriculture.
The Tennessee Valley abounds in plentiful wildlife. Large game species, deer and turkey, are common throughout the area. Small game such as squirrel, dove, and quail, are also available. Migratory duck and geese lure hunters to the area’s eight wildlife and waterfowl management areas and two waterfowl refuges, from the entire southeastern region into the valley. Hunting leases are becoming more important as sources of farm income.
Coal and stone have been mined in the Valley; coal in Jackson and Cullman Counties and stone throughout the region. Older mining operations have left scars over the countryside but existing legislation has led to the reclamation of much of this land.
The area is situated in the “Golden Triangle” between Nashville, Birmingham and Atlanta. Interstate highways crossing the area are I-59 running northeast through DeKalb County and I-65 running north through Cullman, Morgan and Limestone counties. I-565 connects I-65 to Huntsville in Madison County. There are no east-west interstates. However, major east-west state highways include Highway 72 from Jackson County in the east to Limestone County and Highway 278 through Cullman County. Barge transportation is also important (see water resources). Rail transportation runs east and west through Jackson, Madison and Limestone counties and north and south through Cullman, Morgan and Limestone counties. At this time there are no mass transit options.
Tourism & Recreation
Tourism and recreation is an important part of the valley’s economy. The U.S. Space and Rocket Center is the state’s number one inland tourism destination. In addition some of the areas’ abundant natural attractions are the Cathedral Caverns, the Tennessee River, Little River Canyon, Bankhead National Forest and (man-made) Lake Guntersville, Wheeler and Wilson Dams. Natural resources make this area of north Alabama a major attraction. In addition the area has Point Mallard and the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trails, Huntsville Botanical Gardens, Alabama Constitution Village, Historic Huntsville Depot, Burritt on the Mountain, The Weeden House Museum, Huntsville Land Trust, Nature Trail on Green Mountain, Twickenham Historic District, Huntsville Stars, The Channel Cats, Limestone Zoological Park, Huntsville Museum of Art, Panoply of the Arts at Big Spring, Big Spring Jam , Aqua-dome the New Biking and Hike Trail all around Decatur Cooks Science Museum the old State Bank the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge the Civil War Walking Tour through old Decatur.
The availability of water, rail and highway transportation has resulted in major industrial development along these corridors. No where is this more evident then in the Decatur area where major industries like 3-M™, BP Amoco™ and Boeing™ are located. Huntsville boasts the high tech military and NASA ‘spin off’ industries. The Sand Mountain area is heavily vested in the poultry industry with the largest concentration of feed and process plants in the state. Finally Cullman County is benefiting from the location of several auto plants supplies plants in the area.
The population of the Council area has risen from 520,655 in 1970 to 766,335 give or take, in 2001.The people of the Council area makeup 17% of the state’s population. Half of these people live in Madison and Morgan counties where our larger cities, Huntsville and Decatur are located. The population of the region is expected to reach 816,473 by 2015. Most of the increase will be in Madison and Morgan counties. Non-white population ranges from a high of 28% in Madison County to a low of 3% in Cullman County. Since 1970 the council’s population has followed the national trend of growing older. In 1970, 9‰ of the Council’s population was over the age of 65; almost 20% will be over the age of 65 by the year 2015.
Education levels in the Council area remain low. In Madison county over 17% of the adults completed college, in Morgan over 9%, for the rural counties less than 5% have college degrees and thirty 3% completed high school. Lawrence County has the lowest percent age of high school and college graduates and has one of the areas highest high school dropout rates. There are, however, 3 community colleges and 3 four-year colleges in the area.
Income & Poverty
The financial picture for the Council area has improved greatly since 1970. Then about 20‰ of the population had incomes below poverty level. In 1997 that was reduced to about 13.7%. Median household income in the area ranged from a high of $43,239 in Madison County to a low of $27,948 in DeKalb. The relationship between education and income is most evident in comparing these figures. Only in Madison County does the income level exceed the national average. Most of the counties have an income level of only 75% of the national median household income. In recent years, Lawrence County has been listed as an economically distressed county.
The general increase in income is reflected in the improvement in sanitation and health in the area. In 1970 about a quarter of the houses did not have indoor plumbing; in 1990 less than 2% lacked plumbing facilities. Human sewage is still a problem in the area. Failing septic tank and field line system are a large health concern. In 1970 an average of 23% of the rural county residences was on public sewer; in 1990 30% were. The impact of failing septic systems on water quality in the area is a challenge to government agencies. In the urbanized counties the numbers barely changed, 68%. Public water has been provided to about 80% of the residences in rural counties and 97% of those in the urban counties.
As the number of senior citizens increase the need for adequate health care and low-cost prescription drugs.
The eight counties of the Alabama Mountains, Rivers & Valley RC&D Council produce more than a third of Alabama’s income from farming. With only 11% of the land area these counties produce 35% of the farms income. Five of the counties are in the top ten producers of soybeans and corn; four are in the top ten in wheat. Cullman, Jackson and DeKalb produce nearly three quarters of Alabama’s Irish potatoes.
Poultry provides the largest component of Alabama’s agricultural income. Cullman, DeKalb and Marshall are the three largest poultry producing counties and provide more than half of the state’s poultry income. New EPA regulations related to confined animal farming operations present management challenges to farmers, the industry, agricultural agencies and RC&D. Maintaining water quality is essential.
About a quarter of Alabama’s hogs and cattle are raised in the Council’s area. Morgan County is the state’s number one milk producing county
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