Roald Hazelhoff came to Alabama 20 years ago seeking a place to call home. He was stunned by the incredible richness of the state’s natural landscape, yet also saddened by the lack of environmental stewardship. “I made it somewhat of a mission to start addressing that from an educational standpoint.”
With a background in political science, Hazelloff sought work at Birmingham Southern-College (BSC), where he began teaching courses in the field of political science. When he realized the college did not offer any environmental programs, Hazelloff poured his efforts into accomplishing his mission. He helped create the school’s Office of Environmental Programs, now known as the Office of Sustainability, and it was through this BSC program that the Southern Environmental Center (SEC) was eventually created.
As the now long-time Executive Director of the SEC, Hazelloff’s work in environmental sustainability is evident with the SEC’s 23,000 visitors per year—including roughly 12,000 school children. The 5,600-square-foot facility serves to help educate Alabamians about ways to protect and improve the local environment.
The SEC has become well known for its award-winning Interactive Museum and also for its creation of local EcoScapes, which provide a focus on environmental sustainability concerns, such as water conservation and pollution. These natural works of art are often created on vacant lots and made using organic gardening methods and green materials, such as recycled bricks for pathways. SEC EcoScapes intend to motivate visitors to contribute change within their community, workplace or at home.
The SEC EcoScapes Program has created more than a dozen EcoScapes around town, which serve as nature centers and outdoor learning environments. In 2004, Keep Birmingham Beautiful awarded the Woodlawn EcoScape with its annual Urban Garden Award. In 2005, the Arlington-West End EcoScape earned recognition from the Neighborhoods USA program as one of the best small scale community revitalization projects of that year. Learn more about EcoScapes and their Birmingham locations.
In addition to its museum and EcoScapes program, the SEC also currently manages the Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, a 460-acre Forever Wild property in Pinson. This state protected nature facility and grounds is visited weekly by hundreds of people and school groups. It provides hands-on environmental programming where students, Scout groups and others can help the environment with clean ups in the area, become involved in trail building, and learn the fundamental benefits of removing invasive plants. The Turkey Creek Nature Preserve is also home to the only known habitat on Earth for the rare Vermilion Darter fish. Each year, BSC hosts an annual Darter Festival to benefit SEC.
With a focus on the three R’s: reduce, reuse and recycle, Hazellhoff says visitors are encouraged to give thought to the ways they can do things differently at home or in the community.
“I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, and what’s gratifying now is to see how the environmental community has grown,” said Hazelhoff. “While there’s still a real need for advocacy, there’s also a growing sense of environmental awareness in the public. That makes this much more of a helpful place to live.”
In 2010, the Birmingham Business Journal named Hazelhoff Green Advocate of the year, and in 2013, My Green Birmingham recognized him as an Environmental Honoree in the first annual Champions of Sustainability Awards.
For more information about the SEC, visit www.bsc.edu/sec/index.cfm