Jane Tucker Photography by Chelsea Francis
Vignettes of Fairhope
The Fairhope Beach, by Bert Brun
Back in 1894, the Single Tax Colony founders knew they had something both beautiful and also vital to preserve, in their ownership of the beachfront at Fairhope, on historic Mobile Bay.
Today's Fairhopers continue to enjoy the fruits of the founders, who lost little time in dedicating the beach and park lands to the free use in perpetuity by town citizens. Visitors are required to pay modest fees as a rule in most months, for access to the beach area.
Starting even in the dim pre-dawn hours joggers trot or stride their way down to Magnolia Avenue hill toward the beach, there to traverse up and down the paved 1-way roads, before mustering up their energies for the climb back up to the bluff.
After the sun rises the human locomotion is usually slower as strollers of all shapes and ages head toward the beach's peaceful shores. Mothers appear with their small children in carriages or strollers, to give their progeny a whiff of the Bay' s clean air.
What do they first see? The gorgeous, well tended Rose Garden, brilliant for half the year with multi--hued blossoms. The garden encircles a 10-foot high lively water fountain (complete with a lower tier basin containing "wish coins") and a huge American flag. Ahead lies the quarter-mile pier, reopened after hurricane damage in 2004 and 2005, and now as solid as a rock (hope all). The fishermen and walkers make good use of the pier and the Yardarm restaurant re-opened for business in April 2007.
Ambling along the sturdy bulkhead, from March through July, the fifteen purple martin houses are usually fully occupied, as the adults nurture another year of offspring in the attractive boxes placed for them on posts in the shallow water.
To the north are two smaller piers running perpendicular to the shore, mostly frequented by laughing gulls and also by some fishermen. The wood plank boat access ramp, due to shallowing, is mainly useful to smaller vessels.
It's the northward-trending beach that's possibly the area's most interesting asset. The beach itself is fringed by a steep bluff to the east, covered with kudzu and other vine-like vegetation (which helps slow erosion). Speed-limited, paved, one-way roads cover the strip between the beach and the bluff. Children's play areas are also strung along the roads.
A series of connecting pools and slow-flowing water serves as feeding and hangout habitat for the duck and geese populations. Undisputed rulers of the area are the 30-odd geese -- domestic looking white/Toulouse and gray fronted varieties. (Especially) the male geese are fearless and not hesitant at all in attempting intimidation upon anyone they see as threatening.
Canada geese sometimes visit and even occasionally breed in the area.
Several large Muscovy ducks (with red plumage of their heads) and a few peaceful domestic ducks also frequent the lagoon. A resident mallard and blue-winged teal population are also present. The wetland project at the north end of the beach park is especially favored by these wild ducks.
Not to be forgotten are the true shore birds most often seen along the beach itself and in the adjacent waters. These include mostly laughing gulls with their black heads; a few terns and the larger herring gulls are also present. Intermittently seen are small squadrons of brown pelicans and a few resident great blue herons. The habits of the latter two species are fascinating: the pelicans favor a dive bomb approach toward their prey, while the herons use a patient stalking technique.
Smaller migratory birds like warblers pass through or sometimes over winter in the beach region.
Another interesting feature of the beach is the presence of numerous fresh water "seeps." Somehow, unseen by human eyes, an intricate underground drainage system makes its way down from the bluff/gullies to find outlet right at the water's edge. These small water outlets can be very transitory, here one day, shifting elsewhere the next. Aside from those small seeps there are two major water outlets, one at the north end of the beach along the wooden bulkhead there and another from an outlet pipe about 100 yards to the south.
Beach managers frequently will rearrange the sands with earthmoving machines, in turn helping to shift seep pathways. A number of buried black plastic pipes also govern water movements. To the daily beach visitor it's fascinating to observe these varying mysterious water movements.
This has been a brief appreciation of our local treasure, the Fairhope Beach. The best way to appreciate it is to go and be on it as often as possible.
Fairhope in Lights.