The state legislature met on Tuesday and Thursday of this week, spending Wednesday in committee meetings. On Tuesday, more than three hours of the House’s legislative time was spent debating a resolution to encourage the U.S. Congress to support the president’s “government reform agenda.” There was also debate on both the prison reform plan and the state’s policy of judicial override; the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would end a judge’s ability to override a jury’s verdict.
Of the bills Conservation Alabama is currently tracking this session, HB 7 passed out of its committee, bringing us a step closer to allowing Alabamians to donate part of their income tax return to our state parks. This new avenue for contributions gives us another way to support our parks, and thanks to the passage of Amendment 2 on Election Day 2016 we can be sure that any money we donate will stay within the state parks system.
SB 113 passed the Senate and will now be sent to the House Ways & Means Committee. This bill streamlines the process that wastewater treatment facilities have to follow in order to be licensed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM). Currently, facilities have to have a bond in case ADEM needs to take over the facility and/or close it. Facilities also have to pay a fee into an account that is for the same purpose. This bill removes the fee element and redefines the bond requirement to make sure that the state can afford to safely close a facility if necessary.
Federally, confirmation hearings are continuing for the president’s cabinet-level positions. This includes the hearing for Scott Pruitt, the president’s nominee for head of the EPA. As Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) noted in her announcement that she would oppose this confirmation, during Pruitt’s time as attorney general of Oklahoma he filed lawsuits against the EPA in an attempt to restrict the agency’s ability to protect our natural resources and public health. To voice your opinion on Pruitt’s nomination, click here. The full Senate vote on Pruitt’s confirmation is expected to be held this afternoon.
Editor’s Note: Thomas V. Ress is a freelance writer based in Athens, Alabama. His work has appeared in The Huntsville Times, Alabama Heritage Magazine, and the Encyclopedia of Alabama, among many other outlets. Tom is also an avid traveler and an accomplished outdoorsman, and a member of Conservation Alabama. He has generously shared this post about his trip down the Bartram Canoe Trail, which is preserved through the Forever Wild Land Trust in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. For more of Tom’s work, visit his blog.
I’m well into my second day of exploring the wilderness of Alabama’s delta country and I’ve not heard one automobile, seen one condo, or caught so much as a whiff of exhaust fumes. Although I have run into a handful of fellow canoeists paddling along the meandering watery paths of the Bartram Canoe Trail, the feeling of isolation and wildness is overwhelming. I never imagined that in this age of sprawling subdivisions and pervasive second homes there was such a large chunk of Alabama land that still remains natural and untouched.
The Bartram Canoe Trail is actually a network of multiple sinuous passageways that snake through the 250,000 acre Mobile-Tensaw Delta, a huge area of swampy bayous and bottomland full of towering cypress and tupelo trees garlanded with wispy necklaces of Spanish moss. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has developed twelve trails that offer a wide variety of human-powered boating trips. Six of the trails accommodate short 4-8 hour day trips. Six more offer longer overnight trips of up to 3 days.
Hiking through the tangled undergrowth of the delta would be a miserable experience so paddling the open waterways weaving through the delta’s heart is about the only way to explore the area. Canoeing or kayaking through this labyrinth is not as daunting as it may sound. A slight current moves the dark, tea-colored water through mazes of flaring 70-foot high cypress trees, thick fields of skillet-sized lilypads, and head-high palmetto and sawgrass. The paddling is leisurely, much of the time you are cocooned by a cathedral-like ceiling of arching trees, and the trails maps are easy to follow so no worries about getting lost and starving deep in the bowels of the delta.
While the day trips are an excellent way to get a taste of the Mobile-Tensaw, an overnight trip really gives you time to immerse yourself in the beauty of the area and slow your body clock down. For overnight trekkers, campsites are strategically placed along the trails. Given the wet and swampy nature of the land, these designated sites are the only dry options for campers so be sure to time your paddling to make it to your designated stop before dark. Some of the campsites are land-based but the best campsites are covered, raised platforms that accommodate up to six persons and are anchored along the trails.
To literally get your feet wet on the Bartram Canoe Trail, try your hand at Dead Lake Island Trail, the shortest of the overnight trails. It is only 3.5 miles from the launch point to the platform where you will spend the night, allowing plenty of time for exploration. It takes about three hours of easy boating—with frequent stops to gawk at beavers, mink and other critters scampering through the snarl of vegetation along the trail—to reach the platform. Set up your tent before paddling out into the surrounding sloughs and swamps to check out the hordes of herons, bitterns, egrets and other birds that can be seen wading through the shallows for their supper. Enjoy a pleasant evening meal back at the platform and watch the sunset over the trees. Camping on one of these raised structures is a unique experience. Take a balmy night, a black sky milky with a gazillion stars, a full moon silhouetting spooky cypress and tupelo trees, boisterous frogs croaking and splashing in the shadows, and maybe an alligator or two lurking just out of sight. In the middle of all this is your tiny, ten-by-twenty-foot piece of dry refuge–a lonely outpost in the vastness of wild Alabama. Your morning alarm clock will likely be the squawking of wading birds near your platform. The second day will find you backtracking to your original launch point. This trail snakes through one of the heavier utilized areas of the delta so you may so you may encounter some motorized boat traffic but it’s still a pleasant trek.
The best times to go are spring or fall (only fools and Yankees dare spend a summer night in the heat and mosquitoes of the southern delta). Spring is my favorite time to go–the lilypads are alive with bright yellow and white flowers, the birds are nesting and the gators haul out to sun themselves on muddy banks, trying to stir from their winter torpor. Come to think of it, the Bartram Canoe Trail is a good way for humans to shake off winter.
Details: The trails are accessible from various put-in points around the town of Stockton, Alabama, which is north of Bay Minette on Highway 59. Information on the trail is available here. Aside from the occasional alligator (which inhibits any urges you may have to swim or wade), watch for poisonous snakes and the usual stinging and biting insects.
(This article originally appeared in The Huntsville Times)
Editor’s Note: Charles Seifried is a photographer who has captured images of some of the most beautiful places in the world. A resident of Decatur, Charlie has a keen eye for the places and creatures that make Alabama such a special place to live. He has generously shared this blog post and the accompanying photos with our readers. Charlie also provided the stunning photos for Conservation Alabama’s website. We are grateful for Charlie’s support! For more of his work, visit his website.
One of my favorite places to go year round is a place called Limestone Bay. It is part of the big backwaters of the Tennessee River located just south of Mooresville. There are several ways to get to it. One way is go to Mooresville off of I-565 and go west to the second bridge. You can drop down into the creek and head south. Another is to go further down and make a left turn to go to Arrowhead Landing, which is several miles down a dirt road. I would suggest for those that have not been there to take a GPS and make some way points because it really can get confusing, especially coming back late evening as the sun is heading down.
The bay is shallow and gets even shallower as they lower the water after summer pool height. A kayak is an excellent way to go around in these shallow waters. Occasionally you might startle a large carp underneath your boat. It is a good wake-up as they can make a big splash. The bay used to have trees throughout and when they flooded that area they left a considerable amount of stumps. During the summer months you won’t see them, but as TVA draws down the river in the fall and winter they are visible.
If you look at the map you will see that several creeks come down from the north that flow into the bay. One is Piney Creek which is a very interesting little spot – nice water and you can wind around through some beautiful trees. The other one is Limestone Creek. If you follow the creek you used to be able to wind your way through some tight spots and land at a rather broad, low waterfall that was split into two different sections. Years ago the highway department came back to the area to dig out gravel for the highway and they left the pits to fill up with the stream water. Some of these pits that are further from the stream do have some large gators in them. About two years ago on July 4th we had a terrible rain that flooded that whole area. When I went back shortly after that flood, the waterfall was gone. The trees had been knocked down and the water converged into a single flow. I could not believe that the whole area had been changed that quickly.
On the way to this area there is a section that has some gators. We get photos of them during the early spring when they come out and sun themselves on the banks. You will see the alligators slide on the banks as they head back into the water when need be. I have kayaked pretty close to them and have enjoyed watching their activities; you will see their head first and then they slowly sink into the water. If you wait they will pop back up. Some are pretty large so I think it would be wise that you do not use a sit on top kayak as you might end up as dinner.
There are so many inlets and pools back along the bay. Once you get the hang of the place it really is fascinating. If you are quiet and don’t make noise (like dropping your paddle on the deck) you will be able to sneak up on quite a bit of wildlife. Have your camera ready because they can move quickly and you will miss the shot. During the summers the blue herons are all over the place squawking as they fly off, but during the winters you will see thousands of white pelicans, egrets, snow geese, ducks, sandhill cranes and all varieties of smaller birds.
Over the years I have enjoyed Limestone Bay so much, especially being out there with good friends, doing some races back to the dock or just rafting together and talking during lunch. Most of my friends now are getting older like myself, and have not been out there lately but I still head out when people want to go. For me it is a 30 minute drive to the takeout, so when I see good weather and especially when there are clouds and the promise of a good sunset I am on the water.
During the late fall when the deer are on the move you see some remarkable scenes. You will see herds of deer crossing between the islands and the mainland. All the color of the leaves and the deer are quite a thing to behold. Being in a kayak you really are a small profile on the water, especially if you hide yourself behind some brush, and if you are quiet it pays off in getting the photo you want.
Years ago I witnessed a flock of geese feeding on a mud flat. All of a sudden an eagle came flying down and landed close to them. It was obvious that it had to be a juvenile as the geese hardly paid attention to it. But now the bald eagles are back and every so often you will spot one coming in to land on a tree.
Ospreys are all over the place and they have a habit of building their nests in the cross members of the electric towers that cross the river.
During the spring, the water lilies are all over the place and the yellow flowers are in abundance. You will also see Mimosa Trees, Jackson Vine and honeysuckle.