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Earth Day Every Day Heroes: Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

A view of the salt marsh along Weeks Bay from the Reserve Boardwalk. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

One of the hidden treasures of the Gulf Coast is the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR). Fed by the Fish and Magnolia Rivers, Weeks Bay is an inlet on the southeastern side of Mobile Bay, in Baldwin County, Alabama. There are 29 NERR’s in the United States; protected estuaries whose mission is to “practice and promote coastal and estuarine stewardship through innovative research and restoration.” Weeks Bay NERR has been in place since 1986, and has three distinct areas of interest that highlight over 9,000 acres of bottomland hardwood forests, marshes, and bogs.

The Weeks Bay Visitor Center is open 9-5 Monday through Saturday, and includes a nature center with exhibits of native plants and wildlife. Here also is a gorgeous boardwalk trail through upland and wetland forests, opening up to a salt marsh. Signs identifying native trees species line the shaded walkway.

The Pitcher Plant Bog is located diagonally across the street from the Visitor Center. This sunny spot is surrounded by a boardwalk and full of multiple carnivorous species of pitcher plants and sundews. The bog is also home to rare pine lilies and orchids.

A group of adult volunteers in training listens to Weeks Bay NERR staff discuss the local ecosystem during a boat tour. Photo credit: Carrie Stevenson, UF IFAS Extension

The third aspect of the Weeks Bay NERR is its newest facility, the Skipper Tonsmeire Resource Center. Located directly on the bay, this large building is used for classes, workshops, meetings, and other events conducted by NERR staff. In addition to the building, docked nearby is a large pontoon boat used for guided tours along Weeks Bay and the adjacent rivers. Co-located on this property are fishing piers, covered picnic tables, and a boat launch available for public use.

The staff of ten environmental professionals and educators at Weeks Bay do an incredible job reaching thousands of students and adult visitors every year. Their roles at the facility include research and long-term water quality monitoring, training for coastal decision makers, outreach programs for youth and adults, managing and restoring ecosystems on the property, and organizing large groups of volunteers. The Weeks Bay Foundation, 550 members strong, helps support the work of the Reserve through land purchases, conservation efforts, fundraising, and volunteer help.