by Sherry Gros

Freelance Writer for Highland Park Subdivision Mobile Alabama

10/02/2021

Lakes were an imporant feature of a neighborhood during the early 1900s subdivision development in the South. There were no climate controlled environments before WWII aside from an open window with a fan or a shade tree and a glass of lemonade to take the sweltering body temperature down. It would be another three decades into the 1970s before people of moderate means could afford such luxury. A dip in the lake was one quick, convenient way to cool off in the hot, stickey Alabama weather.

The ruins of the Optimist Lake Dam (1936-2021) is the testament of a neighborhood feature of days gone by. There have been many dams allowed to fall in the past 50 years in Alabama resulting in the restoration of the natural hydrology of their respective areas. The cost benefit analysis of rebuilding the dam to form a lake at Milkhouse Creek f/k/a Optimist tells us the benefits would be few and does not outweigh the cost to the majority of the residents who do not live on the margins of the former lake. Why is that? Because, less than a dozen shoreline residents benefit directly from having a lake in their own backyard so their property values increase whereas the rest of the 150 or more non-shoreline residents do not benefit in the same way and in fact incur liability instead of increased property values. The increased property values to surrounding lot owners is miniscule if any compared to what the shoreline residents can annure unto themselves by impounding the waters. However, over the years the inland lot owners have been bearing the costs of maintenance and personal sacrifice of time and cash for very little return in exchange for a lot of aggravation. Which is what Optimist has become to many HP residents past and present… “a lot of aggravation” Here’s hoping going forward with the natural water flow of the Milkhouse Creek model can calm social upheavals that Optimist Lake has created over its 85 year history. In addition, recent climate change studies project our properties here in the Sheldon area of Mobile are more at risk for becoming a flood zone in the coming years.

The purpose of the lake was to cool off in warm weather or recreate, maybe to mitigate soil erosion but has changed for most people with the advent of new technology. For example: affordable air conditioning for climate controlled homes, installation of fire hydrants, and smart phones with virtual fishing in apps, etc.

“In the 1950s, thanks to increased American prosperity after World War II, air conditioning units first became widely affordable. Everyday Americans were able to buy room units and enjoy cool comfort year round. In 1953 alone, 1 million air conditioners were sold.Things changed again in the 1970s, when central air was invented. The early central air functioned much as it does today: Using a condenser, a fan, and coils, air makes its way through the unit, gets chilled, and gets dispersed throughout the house. These early central air conditioners used Freon as a refrigerant, a substance later revealed to be an environmental hazard.” (https://www.kycomfort.com/history-of-residential-air-conditioning/)

Lake Optimist has served its purpose. It costs too much to rebuild for too little benefit to the people overall. We can be mindful of the proper care of watershed and wetlands as we transition from a lakeside community to a Highland Park Wetlands and Watershed of Mobile County community. In my opinion, the shoreline residents have the most to lose and the most to gain by managing or mismanaging the lakebed themselves but to expect surrounding neighbors to foot the bill for mismanagement is sorry. The Milkhouse Creek wetland/watershed model is the most affordable and the most ecologically sound infrastructure for the times we live in today. The reservoir area is reserved for heavy rain events so as not to flood area residents and wildlife lovers can be thrilled by the visitors we will receive throughout the years that will reside in our marshes, creeks, and wetlands. We’ll see how it goes.

1 thought on “Ushering in a New Era of Wetlands and Watershed in Highland Park Subdivision

  1. Ironically, in a twist of fate, Lake Optimist may in fact have a benefactor beyon the inurement of a few shore line residents or an Audubon project. People keep making reference to the 1970’s and 80s breaches of the dam and that there was little to no impact on the area. Fast forward 50 years to today and we find an area of over 5 Sq. miles that has been 50% paved that is the run off and the true headwaters of Milkhouse creek. While Lake Optimist existed with its functioning dam it acted as a shock absorber against the frequent monsoonal rains this area is prone to. In the past, pastures and woods maintained a portion of this much needed absorption of water, metering the sudden influx of rain water over a period of days and weeks. Concrete makes for a poor water sink. The effects of surface water run off into the Milkhouse Creek at flash flood speeds is already evident. Increased erosion of soil and the deposit of silt down stream threaten both Pine Run Rd. as well as Cody Rd. between Providence Place Rd, and Hitt Rd., a responsibility of both the City as well as the County. So, there you have it the new found benefactor for a dam and the re-establishment of Lake Optimist. Or perhaps the Mobile City and County would rather build 2 new bridges over the problem at an exponentially higher cost as opposed to the dredging of the lake and restoration of the dam. Correct me if I am wrong but sadly I feel The County/City intent is to drag their feet on the issue until as was the case on Ziglar Blvd. In the 90’s on more than one occasion lives were lost on Zigler due to flash flooding because of the broken spillway at Langham Park. History will repeat with Milkhouse Creek waters over-topping of Cody and Pine Runroads by flood waters and a major thoroughfare made impassable for an unacceptable amount of time. You see the regulating of water in this portion of the Dog River watershed unlike in the 70’s perhaps even into the 80’s has morphed from a nicety; into a piece of vital infrastructure. Imagine if you will no North, South egress between Airport and Cottage Hill roads from Hilcrest to Schillinger’s roads for any amount of time! But once more I expect what I have written to be down played in the effort to put off the inevitable which at a future date will be far more catastrophic. Such are the times we live, when much is made of nothing and that which is of consequence is down played until a disaster come along with a lot of finger pointing and little resolution towards a viable answer to a problem.

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