Wild wild life

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, July 8, 2004

By By Lindsey Sherrill
When Greg and Marcella Wilson first began working on their Canoe property nine years ago, they had no specific plans other than to enjoy their beautiful backyard. Today, however, the Wilson property is recognized as an official National Wildlife Federation Backyard Wildlife Habitat.
The idea to become an official site began when Marcella heard about the application in her Master Gardener classes.
"I took the application to Greg and said, 'Look, we already have all of this.' We'd spent all this time building on Greg's love of nature without even knowing it," Marcella said. Wilson Forest, as they call their property, was certified in June.
In the past nine years, the Wilson's have transformed their six-acre backyard into a sanctuary for both their family and the abundant wildlife.
"Greg's an outdoor person," Marcella said. "I come home with ideas and he puts them into motion."
One of the first things the couple did was to plant pines behind the house on what had been bare pasture land.
"We wanted the forest to come all the way up to the house," Greg said with a smile. "Instead of moving the house, we just moved the forest!"
The next project was to begin attracting wildlife. "There's wildlife all around," Marcella said. "We're trying to attract, not contain. We even attracted a herd of cows once!"
"Our reasons for caring for the wildlife are personal," she added. "I look at the story of Noah and how God thought the animals were important enough to save them when everything else was destroyed. We see what we do as being a steward of what little creatures we have."
The efforts have paid off. The backyard has been visited by raccoons, foxes, armadillos, snakes, rabbits, deer, turkeys, turtles, bullfrogs and even a coyote came onto the back porch.
Many birds also find a habitat in the Wilson's backyard, which is a registered bird sanctuary. The family has seen owls, hummingbirds, bluebirds, wrens and redheaded and pillated woodpeckers.
"We've never seen anything exotic come through," Marcella said, "but only because we weren't looking!"
As part of caring for the birds, the backyard provides different levels of cover for the birds, food sources, such as figs, berries, pears, crab apples and sunflowers, and water from a small pool Greg built off the back porch. Greg and the kids have built houses for barred owls, bluebirds and wrens. They are also planning to build houses for the bat population which helps to keep the backyard mosquito free.
In addition to the backyard, the Wilson's also own over 30 acres straddling the Alabama-Florida state line. The land, part virgin forest and part small planted pines, also includes seven and a half acres of certified Florida wetlands, home to more wildlife and native plants. Canoe Creek also runs across the property.
"Marcella has always wanted land with a creek," Greg said. "We looked everywhere and it ended up being in our own backyard!"
"Notice the difference down here. It's quiet and even cooler. The water is always ice cold," Marcella said.
The Wilson's are quick to point out their reasons for buying the acreage.
"The land has no value to us outside of the beauty and wildlife it offers," Greg said. "We want to disturb as little as possible."
"As long as we own it, it will never be developed," Marcella added.
Greg and Marcella's care and attention to nature has been shared with their children, Leah, 14, and Matthew, 13.
"They definitely love it too," Greg said. "As for Leah, even if it's a rat she'll save its life!"
The Wilson's are also firm believers in the importance of parents exposing their children to nature.
"Through your involvement you get children involved," he said. "Growing up, my mom instilled in us that when you had problems or needed to think, go out and walk. My family stayed in the woods around Walnut Hill. It instilled a love of nature in me. I've taken my two children with me since they could walk and I think it's put something in them too."
"But you don't have to have a lot of land," he added. "Something like Turtle Point works too. One lab is as good as another."
The National Wildlife Federation is currently pushing for schools to get involved to help wildlife and give children opportunities to experience nature. The NWF also offers opportunities for almost anyone, whether they have hundreds of acres or just a patio, to create their own backyard habitat. For more information, contact the NWF at (703) 438-6100.
Marcella also encourages everyone to get involved. "It's really neat to see what people can do in their own backyards."

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox