Boyhood exploration of Grampian Hills leads to lifelong passion
Camden native Tommy Lawler has explored the woods of Wilcox County since he was a boy. “My daddy would drop me off here before I could drive, and I would explore for hours,” he said. He now owns the land he once explored in an area known as the Grampian Hills, and he often invites others to explore it today.
His land is part of an area known as the Grampian Hills, which covers 10 to 12 miles between Beatrice and Camden. The name comes from early Scottish settlers who were reminded of the Grampian Mountains in the Highlands of Scotland.
Lawler, a forester, owns and manages thousands of acres under his company, Lawler Timber Co. Though he cuts trees for a living, Lawler has set aside the part of the woods he explored as a boy in what others have termed an ecological preserve, though Lawler does not quite see it this way. “The purpose is to preserve the flora and fauna. But what I’m doing is just what you do.”
He got the attention of botanists and biologists with the discovery of the Red Hill Salamander, Alabama’s state amphibian, on his land. The salamander is only found in six counties other than Wilcox.
The Red Hill Salamander, as well as the diverse flora and fauna, attracted university students from all over the country to visit and study in the Grampian Hills. “A lot of people would not allow people on their private land to do research.” Lawler said. “But I don’t mind it.”
Lawler has invited elementary school students, botanists, and friends to explore his property in the Grampian Hills.
Lawler enjoys educating visitors about the ecology. Before COVID, Lawler invited local fourth grade classes to come out to learn about the flora, fauna, and wildlife, noting that the children enjoyed being able to explore the area.
Lawler is deeply familiar with what the property offers. He can identify and name most of the plants on his land, although he remains humble. “I just pay attention,” he said.
According to an article by Jeff Dute published on al.com, a sample of the diversity of plant life includes “five different types of magnolia trees, rare and endangered such as crested dwarf iris (Iris cristata), Southern nodding trillium (Trillium reguli), Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens), Red Hills Azalea (Rhododendron colemanii) and big-leaf witch hazel (Hamamelis ovalis).” The article also noted that the more chalk maple trees are found in the Grampian Hills than anywhere else in Alabama.
Cameras set up at places in the Grampian Hills capture images of different kinds of wildlife, often shared on Facebook. One wildlife camera shows turkeys, coyotes and more crossing a log creek bridge on the Grampian Hills Wildlife YouTube site:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTC-MVIbeL9zMThRrdE90uA
Lawler and his older brother, James “Big Daddy” Lawler, work closely together. Big Daddy is an outdoorsman and broadcaster https://www.facebook.com/gettinoutdoorscreatorsport/ who has promoted the natural assets of Alabama’s Black Belt for 40 years.
Wilcox County is full of diverse wildlife, flora, and fauna, and the Lawler brothers’ efforts to preserve a piece of the diversity and beauty are important to the region and to the environment.
“What I’m doing on my land everyone can do on their land,” Tommy Lawler said.