Closure of the Southeastern Fish Cultural Laboratory in Marion in 1994 dealt a severe blow to the Marion community, but, it opened the door for the restoration of the old Perry Lakes Park. The S. E. Fish Cultural Laboratory was owned by the Federal government and it was located beside the State Fish Hatchery in Marion. The road leading to the old Perry Lakes Park is located on the Culture Laboratory property. For security reasons, this road was closed in 1974 which blocked the public from the Perry Lakes Park
Soon after the Fish Culture Laboratory closed, Probate Judge Donald Cook started a campaign to convert the Federal land of the Culture Laboratory to State property and then to reclaim the Perry Lakes Park for the community and all interested persons. Many people helped Judge Cook in the effort to restore the Perry Lakes Park, but, there is no doubt that he led the effort.
The first meeting of the Perry Lakes planning session was called by Judge Cook and was attended by representatives of the Marion Hatchery, Marion Mayor Daniel, Bob Reid of the Birmingham Audubon Society, Randy Haddock of the Cahaba River Society, and Thomas Wilson, Judson College biologist and environmental activist. The plan laid out by Judge Cook made it clear that we had a good chance of reclaiming the Park.
At the end of the planning session, Thomas Wilson made this statement, “Reclaiming the Perry County Park is a wonderful project and it will happen. However, it would be a shame to have the Park but not have access to the Cahaba River which is only about 400 meters from the Park. Let’s work on two projects at the same time. Let’s find a way to purchase the Barton’s Beach property from the local land owner.”
An application was made to the Forever Wild Program and Thomas Wilson spent the next two years traveling to the Forever Wild public meetings and lobbing for the Barton’s Beach project. Judge Cook, Wilson and several Judson College students spoke at the public meetings and the Barton’s Beach proposal was among the four chosen out of a beginning pool of 104 community projects.
The Forever Wild award was several thousand dollars short of the total needed to purchase the Barton’s Beach property. We were rescued by The Alabama Nature Conservancy who had listened to our Forever Wild presentations at several of the public meetings. The Nature Conservancy bought the property and created the Barton’s Beach Cahaba River Preserve. We now have access to the river from the Perry Lakes Park.
Thomas Wilson worked with Norman Burton of the Ala-Tom RC&D Council and the ADECA Trails program to establish access to the Cahaba River a few miles above Barton’s Beach and a few miles down river from the Preserve. In the near future, the Perry Lakes Park/Barton’s Beach Cahaba River Preserve will be one of the finest natural areas in the State, if not in the South.