Forever Wild protects more than 200,000 acres of the most unique outdoor recreation areas in Alabama. On Thursday, February 4, the board of directors for the Forever Wild Land Trust convened in Montgomery for their first quarterly meeting of 2016. These meetings are open to the public, and the board encourages public comments on potential land acquisitions and other issues related to the program.
At this meeting, representatives from organizations, businesses, and communities spoke up to share their own experiences with Forever Wild and advocate for the program and its services. Hunting, fishing and outdoor recreation bring in more than $2 billion each year to our state’s economy. Forever Wild lands allow local communities to capitalize on this market, and examples of those economic benefits were highlighted at today’s meeting. Below are short descriptions of these public comments as examples of the benefits of Forever Wild and its economic and social impact on the communities across the state that host Forever Wild properties.
- Jacksonville Mayor Johnny Smith praised the Rails to Trails program, stating that the local bike trails have improved his town’s quality of life and made Jacksonville a more marketable destination for businesses and residents. Jacksonville is part of the Chief Ladiga Trail, and Mayor Smith credits the trail for attracting visitors that support local businesses.
- Old Cahawba Archaeological Park advocated for the expansion of Dallas County’s Hall Tract to help in their efforts to showcase Alabama’s first capital city for the 2019 state bicentennial celebration. This land will also be used to preserve the hunting traditions that are so important to Dallas County and Alabama’s Black Belt Region.
- Jacksonville State University has calculated that Anniston’s Coldwater Mountain Bike Trail – located on their local Forever Wild property – has an economic impact of between $1.9 and $5.9 million.
- A proposed addition on Shades Creek would double the length of canoe trails on the Cahaba River, and would connect to the Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park. This would allow visitors to camp in the park and put their kayak or canoe in on the Forever Wild property, providing an opportunity for recreation that is convenient to both Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
- The City of Gadsden has been awarded an Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs grant to construct more hiking and biking trails on their local Forever Wild property.
- Coastal Land Trust is seeking to preserve more land in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta through Forever Wild. The Delta is the foundation of Coastal Alabama’s seafood industry in addition to a recreation destination for both tourists and locals.
- The Alabama Hiking Trail Society offered their continued support to the board, and discussed their success in planning and building hiking trails across the state.
- The Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail Association advocated that the board move forward on a proposed land acquisition in Elmore County near Lake Martin for which they have a planned network of hiking trails.
The Forever Wild Land Trust preserves land for public use, including hiking, hunting, birding, birding, and horseback riding. Created in 1992, Forever Wild was renewed in 2012 for another 20 years by constitutional amendment that passed with more than 75% of the vote.
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)
First and foremost, THANK YOU for speaking up for Alabama’s public lands! Over 900 messages were sent to state legislators to let them know that Senate Bill 38 was a bad bill and we would not choose between Forever Wild and Alabama’s state parks. On August 7, Sen. Clay Scofield (R-Arab), the bill’s sponsor, withdrew his support for the bill, effectively killing it. The first special session ended on Tuesday, August 11, with no further threats to Forever Wild. While our political system can sometimes be frustrating, in this case it functioned exactly as it was supposed to: voters stood up for what matters to them, and our representatives listened and acted accordingly.
While Forever Wild is safe for now, there will be a second special legislative session since the legislature did not pass a budget that Governor Bentley considered workable. We expect more battles over funding for vital programs like state parks, and will likely need your help again to fight for Alabama’s natural resources.
The second special session hasn’t been scheduled yet, but it must take place before the state’s new fiscal year begins on October 1. As soon as we have more information we will share it with you.