Escape to Chewacla: Mountain Bikes, Campsites, & College Football (Part II)

Editor's note: This post is part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer. Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.

The Eighth Day Escape Contest began January 8, 2016 and will conclude January 8, 2017. Monthly winners will be randomly selected each month and the grand prize winner will be drawn January 8, 2017. Click here for contest entry forms and more information. Be sure to enjoy previous monthly adventures also: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay (Part I),May (Part II)JuneJuly, August (Part I)


In addition to adventuring at Lake Lurleen State Park last month, I had the opportunity to spend time at Chewacla State Park while I was attending a training course hosted in Auburn. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes dread week-long training courses that pull me away from my normal routine. I’m pleased to say that was definitely not the case last month. I’ve always loved Chewacla for its showcase of CCC handiwork, gorgeous views of oak-hickory forests, and overall welcoming feel, but I’ve never really gotten to spend more than a few hours at the park. Staying five days in one of the incredible CCC-built cabins was really a treat.

 The Civilian Conservation Corps was a work program created by Roosevelt's New Deal in response to the Great Depression. The U.S. Department of the Interior’s National Park Service administered this program, and its public work projects included lakes and dams, trails, roads and bridges, cabins, pavilions and shelters, as well as water and sewer systems. Native stone and timber were utilized in many of these early construction projects, and can still be observed in several Alabama State Parks including Chewacla.

Whether by foot or mountain bike, the trail system at Chewacla is a great way to see some the CCC craftsmanship, water features, and other great views in the park. There are first-class mountain biking trails for both beginner and advanced riders, made possible by the hard work and resources provided through the park’s partnership with Central Alabama Mountain Peddlers (CAMP). While I was in the park, I borrowed a mountain bike from a friend so I could try out a couple of trails. I definitely fall into the beginner category, but I had a great time and can see how mountain biking is a favorite hobby of many. If you are interested, there are a variety of weekly rides at the park hosted by CAMP, some perfect for learning the ropes and getting familiar with the sport. There is even a trail “classroom” at the park with beginner features to help beginners gain experience before hitting some of the more advanced trails. For more information, or to learn how to get started, check out CAMP’s website or Facebook page.

Chewacla State Park - Hiking Discoveries

In addition to trying my hand at mountain biking, I also visited the park’s nature center with Park Naturalist Amanda White. The nature center is located in the park’s original pump house which was built by the CCC. The center now features several live reptiles, amphibians and fish used for education. The park is the perfect place for field trips, or just for visiting during your next stay at the park (just be sure to make an appointment ahead of time).

I have to admit I felt a little bit like a college student the week I stayed at the park. I spent most of my days in class on campus and looked forward to escaping to the park after class. If you know someone going to Auburn, please make sure they know about Chewacla, or better yet, surprise them with an annual pass! I can vouch that it made for the perfect place to enjoy the outdoors after being stuck in a classroom all day. It even made studying a little more enjoyable!

Like Lake Lurleen State Park, Chewacla also fills up during home football weekends! As a matter of fact, it fills so quickly that call dates for reserving cabins and campsites (for Auburn home weekends) are posted on the website so everyone has a fair chance at booking their accommodations. Last I checked though, there were campsites available for a few of the 2016 home games. It is such a fun atmosphere for football fans, and it is really conveniently located off of I-85 and near campus. There are plenty of local restaurants worth enjoying, too. While I was in town, I enjoyed a delicious meal with some friends and family at Good Ol’ Boys, a great little steakhouse just a few miles from the park. If you go there on your next trip, just be sure to leave your mark on their map! 

Like all of Alabama's incredible parks, Chewacla is a great destination for making memories. After eight months of preparing these Eighth Day Escape adventures, I am even more resolved that our parks have something for everyone, and are absolutely worth your visit.

Suggestions for your next trip to Chewacla State Park:

 


ENTER TO WIN THIS MONTH'S LAKE LURLEEN AND CHEWACLA PRIZE PACK:

Have you visited an Alabama State Park in the last 60 days? Submit a photo from your trip along with a contest entry form and you could win (be sure to save a copy of this form before completing it). This month's prize pack includes a weekend of FREE CAMPING at Lake Lurleen State Park plus TWO Chewacla State Park vouchers for "Buy One, Get One Night Free" to be used by you and a friend on any overnight accomodation at the park (must be used on same visit). Winner will also receive Sweet Home Alabama gifts and more.


EIGHTH DAY ESCAPE CONTEST WINNERS:

JANUARY WINNER (entries received 1/8 - 2/7): Cathy Struntz
FEBRUARY WINNER (entries received 2/8 - 3/7): Chelsea Gathers
MARCH WINNER (entries received 3/8 - 4/7): Cathy Goss
APRIL WINNER (entries received 4/8 - 5/7): Lamar Johnson
MAY WINNER (entries received 5/8 - 6/7): Malia Ragan
JUNE WINNER (entries received 6/8 - 7/7): no valid entries 
JULY WINNER (entries received 7/8 - 8/7): Nikki Nelson
AUGUST WINNER (entries received 8/8 - 9/7): 
SEPTEMBER WINNER (entries received 9/8 - 10/7): 
OCTOBER WINNER (entries received 10/8 - 11/7): 
NOVEMBER WINNER (entries received 11/8 - 12/7): 
DECEMBER WINNER (entries received 12/8/16 - 1/7/17):

GRAND PRIZE WINNER (all entries received 1/8/16 - 1/7/17): 

Go Explore!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Escape to Lakepoint on the Banks of Lake Eufaula

Editor's note: This post is part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer. Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.

The Eighth Day Escape Contest began January 8, 2016 and will conclude January 8, 2017. Monthly winners will be randomly selected each month and the grand prize winner will be drawn January 8, 2017. Click here for contest entry forms and more information. Be sure to enjoy previous monthly adventures also: January, February


What do you love about Alabama State Parks? Maybe it’s the serenity of a good resting place near a waterfall, or the perfect hiking trail to enjoy after a busy day at work. Perhaps you use the parks as a gathering place for your friends and family to enjoy the great outdoors. Do you love the warmth of a good campfire on a chilly night? If you are anything like me, you may not be able to identify just one thing you love about Alabama State Parks. There are so many reasons I enjoy being in our parks, and my list grows with every visit. This month I spent time at Lakepoint State Park for my Eighth Day Escape. I was reminded that not only are Alabama State Parks worth celebrating, they are the perfect place to host a celebration.

Lakepoint State Park borders the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge and is nestled on the banks of Lake Eufaula, a reservoir on the Chattahoochee River. The park is picturesque with stately pines providing homes to an array of wildlife, and the park’s geographic location gives a Southeastern Plains snapshot of where rolling hills meet river floodplains. It was the perfect setting to host a birthday party for an adventurous twelve year old. 

I came to know the Walters family a while back while serving as a forestry intern in Wilcox County. They took me in as family for the summer, but didn’t realize they would be stuck with me for years to come. I love any opportunity I have to visit with them, so joining them as they celebrated Emma’s twelfth birthday at Lakepoint was the perfect way to spend a weekend with the girls. Emma, the birthday girl, was accompanied by her younger sister Edie and their mom Tiffany. My mom and little boy tagged along with me for the trip also. We started the celebration with a big dinner on Friday night in our cottage. Emma requested her favorite casserole for dinner along with birthday brownies and ice cream for dessert. The full kitchen in the cottage was well suited for the big birthday dinner, and was the perfect place to catch up on what’s been going on with each other’s family. Our society moves so fast sometimes, it’s nice to have an escape set aside to cultivate friendships.

With so much to catch up on, Friday evening flew by. Saturday morning came early, but Emma and Edie agreed to go with me over to the Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge to see what cool critters we could find. Mark Jackson, a park superintendent at Lakepoint, joined us for the adventure and brought along his toolbox of nature knowledge. The refuge is a great place to see alligators catching rays, songbirds dashing from limb to limb, and birds of prey soaring overhead. As we drove in on Wildlife Drive, we were greeted by a red-tailed hawk in the distance. A red-headed woodpecker was also part of the welcoming party as it worked away on an old pine snag. As we walked out to one of the overlooks in the refuge, we talked about the aptly named yellow-rumped warblers that were flitting about. Once on the overlook, we had a good view of a few oak trees that had toppled in a recent storm event. We walked down to get a better view, and discovered a group of green anoles had made the upended tree roots their home. Many wildlife species have a knack for making use of damaged trees like this (e.g. Barred owls, eastern bluebirds, and many other bird species will nest in cavities of damaged trees). Down trees also make for good exploring grounds for a couple of adventurous preteens. With a little convincing, Edie caught a green anole for a closer look while Emma watched (from her opinion of a safe distance). Emma was much happier spotting wildlife signs instead of catching the critters. I had a blast watching them explore -- nature is truly the best playground and classroom, all wrapped into one. 

  
 

After the ENWR adventure (and a change out of muddy shoes), we made the short drive back to Lakepoint for lunch in the Water's Edge Dining Room. We wrapped up the birthday celebrations with another round of desserts and lots of laughs. Visits with friends always seem to come to an end too soon, but I'll take quality over quantity any day. Lakepoint was the perfect place for a birthday adventure, and was a great reminder of why Alabama State Parks should be enjoyed by all!


Suggestions for your next trip to Lakepoint State Park:

  • Relax on the back porch of a Lakeside Cottage at Lakepoint State Park
  • Rent a boat and enjoy Lake Eufaula
  • Go adventuring at the Eufauala National Wildlife Refuge. Check them out on Facebook!
  • Attend the 51st annual Eufaula Heritage Association Pilgrimage April 1-3, 2016, or visit the Shorter Mansion year-round
    The pilgrimage features 7 home tours, featuring private homes and candlelight tours! Brunch and tea tickets are also available for reservation only-events. 

Keep up with what's happening at Lakepoint State Park on Facebook!


Enter to WIN a Lakepoint Prize Pack!

Have you visited an Alabama State Park in the last 60 days? Submit a photo from your trip along with a contest entry form and you could win. This month's prize pack includes:

  • Stay one night in lodging of your choice at Lakepoint, receive second night free! 
  • Dinner for 2 in the Water's Edge Dining Room 
  • Family pass to the Shorter Mansion in downtown Eufaula
  • Apparel and more!

EIGHTH DAY ESCAPE CONTEST WINNERS:

JANUARY WINNER (entries received 1/8 - 2/7): Cathy Struntz
FEBRUARY WINNER (entries received 2/8 - 3/7): Chelsea Gathers
MARCH WINNER (entries received 3/8 - 4/7): 
APRIL WINNER (entries received 4/8 - 5/7): 
MAY WINNER (entries received 5/8 - 6/7): 
JUNE WINNER (entries received 6/8 - 7/7): 
JULY WINNER (entries received 7/8 - 8/7): 
AUGUST WINNER (entries received 8/8 - 9/7): 
SEPTEMBER WINNER (entries received 9/8 - 10/7): 
OCTOBER WINNER (entries received 10/8 - 11/7): 
NOVEMBER WINNER (entries received 11/8 - 12/7): 
DECEMBER WINNER (entries received 12/8/16 - 1/7/17): 

GRAND PRIZE WINNER (all entries received 1/8/16 - 1/7/17):

 

Go Explore!

 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Escape to the Majestic Three

Editor's note: This post is part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer. Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.

The Eighth Day Escape Contest began January 8, 2016 and will conclude January 8, 2017. Monthly winners will be randomly selected each month and the grand prize winner will be drawn January 8, 2017. Click here for contest entry forms and more information, and check out January's Adventure also.


Marshall County Majestic Three

My second monthly getaway took me to the Marshall County Majestic 3. I spent a long weekend exploring Buck’s Pocket, Cathedral Caverns, and Lake Guntersville State Parks. January was a busy month, so I was grateful for the ready-made M3 adventure package featuring a picnic at Buck’s Pocket, cave tour at Cathedral Caverns, and overnight accommodations with a breakfast buffet at Lake Guntersville. As much as I love trip planning, a ready-made escape was just what I needed. If you can relate, be sure to enter this month’s drawing for a chance to win an M3 Package plus additional passes to Cathedral Caverns.

Blueberries, Boxed Lunches, and a Bald Eagle
(Buck's Pocket Adventure)

I stopped in at the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge on Thursday morning, January 28, to pick up my boxed lunch for a Buck’s Pocket picnic. Amanda Glover, assistant naturalist at Lake Guntersville, joined me for the adventure. There are many things that I love about my job, but the people I work with rank near the top of that list. If you have ever met Amanda, you know she can spot a soaring raptor before anyone else has even had a chance to look up. As we drove to Grove Oak, she pointed out several American kestrels and red-tailed hawks stalking their prey from roadside powerlines.

Once we arrived at Buck’s Pocket, we quickly settled on a table in the day use area and chowed down on lunch. Have you ever heard the saying that potato chips taste better from the bag at grandmother’s house? Well, I think the same can be said of my Buck’s Pocket lunch. I’m nearly certain my ham and cheese hoagie tasted better because of my vista view from the canyon rim. It’s not just anywhere that you can watch a bald eagle soar over while you picnic.

After lunch, Amanda and I moseyed down the boardwalk overlooking the pocket below. While we were walking, I couldn’t help but look forward to spring. There were so many Rhododendron plants along the path that will be screaming with color in several months. Another shrub flourishing beside the boardwalk was sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum), sometimes called farkleberry or tree huckleberry. I can always spot this one because its leaves are the same shape as Shrek’s ears, a factoid that has stuck with me from dendrology class (and probably always will). Another way to spot sparkleberry is by its fruit – a blueberry that can hang on through winter. We finished off the after-lunch walk by taking in the view from the overlook at the end of the boardwalk. The view was well worth the short walk, and really gave a cool perspective of the full escarpment from the edge of the rim to the valley below.

Exceeding Expectations
(Touring Cathedral Caverns)

After lunch at Buck’s Pocket, I dropped Amanda off at Lake Guntersville and headed toward Cathedral Caverns for a cave tour and gem mining. I always look forward to the cave tour at Cathedral Caverns, no matter how often I go.

I was a new parks employee the first time I visited Cathedral Caverns, and I was on a mission to learn as much as possible about as many parks as possible (in as little time as possible). My enthusiasm often caused me to hurry through park visits. That strategy came to a screeching halt the moment the lights came on in the Cathedral Room during my first cave tour. That first breathtaking view of the formations in the Cathedral Room is something I don’t intend on ever forgetting.  

I was talking with Park Naturalist Randall Blackwood during my latest visit and he said this about the cave, “Everyone has some preconceived idea of what it will be like to go through the cave, but this place is nothing like what people imagine. It surpasses everyone’s expectations every single time.” Randall, I could not agree more. My expectations were far surpassed, and continue to be. I have yet to visit when I didn’t see some kind of cave-dwelling critter or learn something new about the many fossils in the cave, and I am always fascinated by the underground river flowing below the pathway.

While I was at the park this time, I also picked up a bag of mining dirt so I could pan for gems as part of my Cathedral Caverns adventure. Gem mining is such a fun, family friendly activity – I love the fact that you never know what you might find as you let the water in the flume help you sift through the soil, rocks, gems, and fossils in the tray.

I realize I work for parks and I am supposed to say things like this, but please, please, visit Cathedral Caverns State Park. It is such a gem in our state and the cave is ACCESSIBLE BY ALL. The smooth concrete pathway that extends through the cave makes it stroller- and wheelchair-friendly. You can even take the tour by staff-driven golf cart if you are unable to walk long distances, and the temperature in the cave stays near a comfortable 60 degrees year-round.

Cathedral Caverns

Finishing the Weekend with Eagle Awareness
(Lake Guntersville State Park)

Some might say that Eagle Awareness at Lake Guntersville State Park is just an annual event, but to me it is so much more. Eagle Awareness was the first event that I worked as a new parks employee, and it shaped me as a park naturalist and taught me what Alabama State Parks are all about. Like the Alabama State Parks system, Eagle Awareness has a rich history and serves an important purpose for both the people who visit and for our natural resources. Needless to say, I was excited to finish out my weekend at Lake Guntersville with Eagle Awareness festivities. As a bonus, my family came up to join me for the remainder of the weekend. Here are a few of the details from my favorite moments.

Saturday morning started with a field trip to the TVA Guntersville Lock and Dam to watch a pair of Bald Eagles as they tended their newly hatched eaglets. After visiting this nest site weekend after weekend during last year's Eagle Awareness programs, I admit that I began to take the viewing opportunity for granted. During this trip, I was reminded of why I shouldn't ever take it for granted. I was leading a group of Eagle Awareness participants towards the viewing area when everyone started pointing up. Directly overhead, a mature bald eagle soared by and found a hunting spot on a nearby electrical tower. The look on my face and the looks on the faces around me reminded me just how special it is to see eagles so close! Elmo Belcher, longtime Eagle Awareness participant and contributor, was there with his spotting scope. He was quick to set the scope up for a few children who were there to see the eagles. Watching their faces light up when they found the eagles in the spotting scope was priceless! Meaningful moments like that make my job fun.

On Saturday afternoon, January 30, Bob Tarter of the Natural History Educational Company of the Midsouth (NHECM) presented a great program featuring live birds of prey. The crowd favorite always seems to be Elliot, a Eurasian Eagle-owl. I've had the pleasure of learning from Bob's program on several occasions, and my favorite part is watching the crowd of folks stick around after the presentation so they can capture a perfect photo of the birds. Saturday was a beautiful sunny day, so Bob took time to take a couple of his birds out on the lodge balcony for photo opportunities. While it may not be the most adventurous thing I did all weekend, spending time with park guests as they had the chance to take great photos of the Harris' Hawk and Eurasian Eagle-owl still earned its place as one of my favorite weekend moments. 

On Sunday morning, my sweet family joined me for a delicious buffet breakfast before we headed home. Breakfast in the Pinecrest Dining Room has always been one of my favorite parts of Eagle Awareness, so I would be remiss if I didn't tell you that. This year was extra special, though, because now I have to ask for a high chair for my new family addition! 

As I was checking out of the lodge, Scottie Jackson of the Alabama Wildlife Center was returning from the Sunday morning field trip to the Guntersville Dam. I asked her how the trip was and her face lit up. She said, "Emily, it was ah-mazing!" Considering Scottie works with birds of prey at the AWC on a daily basis, I was impressed. She said they were standing at the nest viewing site when momma or poppa flew over just above the tree line with a bass in its talons. Her excitement was contagious, and was the perfect ending to a great weekend in Marshall County

Winter at Lake Guntersville State Park


ENTER THE EIGHTH DAY ESCAPE CONTEST THIS MONTH FOR A CHANCE TO WIN THE FOLLOWING:

  • M3 Promotional Package for Two + Eagle Awareness Water Bottles (valued at $250)
  • Additional Family Pass for Cathedral Caverns + a bag of mining dirt (valued at $65)


EIGHTH DAY ESCAPE CONTEST WINNERS:

JANUARY WINNER (entries received 1/8 - 2/7): Cathy Struntz
FEBRUARY WINNER (entries received 2/8 - 3/7): 
MARCH WINNER (entries received 3/8 - 4/7): 
APRIL WINNER (entries received 4/8 - 5/7): 
MAY WINNER (entries received 5/8 - 6/7): 
JUNE WINNER (entries received 6/8 - 7/7): 
JULY WINNER (entries received 7/8 - 8/7): 
AUGUST WINNER (entries received 8/8 - 9/7): 
SEPTEMBER WINNER (entries received 9/8 - 10/7): 
OCTOBER WINNER (entries received 10/8 - 11/7): 
NOVEMBER WINNER (entries received 11/8 - 12/7): 
DECEMBER WINNER (entries received 12/8 - 1/7/17): 

GRAND PRIZE WINNER (all entries received 1/8/16 - 1/7/17):


GO EXPLORE!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Escape to Meaher and the Mobile Delta

Editor's note: This post is part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer. Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.

The Eighth Day Escape Contest begins January 8, 2016 and will conclude January 8, 2017. Monthly winners will be randomly selected each month and the grand prize winner will be drawn January 8, 2017. Click here for contest entry forms and more information.

WELCOME!

Welcome to the first post of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest! I would like to begin with a brief introduction. My name is Emily Vanderford and I have the privilege of working as a Park Naturalist for Alabama State Parks. I grew up in a small West Alabama town where I was raised by parents who loved spending time outdoors. There were few things I enjoyed as much as being in my father’s shadow during early fall while he scouted for deer trails in the beautiful oak-hickory forests on the family property. As autumn faded to winter, Dad would trade in his tree climber and bow and arrow for a seat next to me in a ladder- stand or shooting house. During spring months, when largemouth bass can be found near weed beds, it was well-understood that the back seat of the bass boat was reserved for me. Summertime meant tending the garden with Mom, and learning from her as she worked so diligently to can and freeze vegetables for the year. My parents will likely never know all the life lessons I learned because they raised me to appreciate the resources around me.

Despite my family’s love for the outdoors, though, there were so many places in Alabama that I never visited or knew about. When you live in a state as biologically rich as this one, it is challenging to understand and appreciate just how many natural treasures there are. For that reason, I am thrilled to be part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series by Parks Explorer. Join me as I venture to each Alabama State Park and surrounding attractions. Share in my journey of exciting nature finds, fun recreational activities, and inspiring conversations with conservationists from across the state. At the end of each post, there will also be a bulleted list of ideas for your next adventure.

This month’s escape took me to Spanish Fort, Alabama, a great town in the heart of the Southern Coastal Plain. Although I only had time for a two-day, one-night adventure January 6-7, 2016, I had a blast exploring one of “Alabama’s Ten Natural Wonders” thanks to my fellow Alabama State Parks staff and the great folks at 5 Rivers. The Mobile Delta is one of the most biologically diverse areas in North America, but until recently I knew very little about this water-filled wonder some call “America’s Amazon.” The delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. It spans more than 200,000 acres of swamps, river bottomlands and marshes. Where the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee and Blakeley rivers flow into Mobile Bay, there are two fantastic access points to the waters of the Mobile Delta: Meaher State Park and 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center

5 RIVERS - ALABAMA'S DELTA RESOURCE CENTER

5 Rivers Delta Resource Center Overview

When I arrived in Spanish Fort, my first visit was with Hank Burch and Shonda Borden of 5 Rivers. They were gracious to tell me the history of Alabama's Delta Resource Center and how it has grown since its opening in 2007. We talked of the importance of the Forever Wild program and how places like 5 Rivers are crucial for providing the public with conservation education while also serving as a gateway to the public lands in Alabama. We walked through the beautiful facilities at 5 Rivers, perfect for school field trips or hosting special events. I felt like a kid in a candy store as I wandered through the educational exhibits of Apalachee Exhibit Hall and the Little Bateau Classroom. 

As we talked about the history of 5 Rivers, I enjoyed hearing about how the land under the center is actually a dredge site, made up of soil deposits from the construction of a bridge on I-10. We talked about the interesting plant cover that resulted from the deposited soils (and seeds in the soil) when they were brought from the construction site. On one part of the property along a stroll-worthy hiking trail, you can find a forest of southern live oak trees (Quercus virginiana). These oaks were likely established because the deposited soil was retrieved during a year of heavy acorn mast. Have you ever stopped to think about the way the soil under your feet impacts the plants you see?  

After the great welcome tour and overview of the grounds came the part of the visit I had been looking forward to since planning January’s trip – a boat tour of the area! In an ecosystem with such high biodiversity, you never know what you might see. Even in the middle of the day, I was certain there would be great nature sightings. After only a few minutes in the boat, a red-tailed hawk soared overhead and landed in a tree just across from Delta Hall. Nearby in Justins Bay, a great paddling destination for all skill levels, the water level was much higher than usual on account of recent flooding. Manager Hank Burch talked about how this area is usually a mud flat perfectly suited for kayakers to “plop and watch” a variety of wading birds and shorebirds. Let’s add that to the list of things I want to do this April (or October) during premier migration time.

As we navigated up the Blakeley River to the Apalachee, I saw the sites where there once were two Civil War batteries facing each other from opposite points on the river banks. Upstream, we meandered into Big Bateau Bay towards Conway Creek. Due to high water levels and winter’s effects on the aquatic plants, I did not get a complete picture of the grandeur in this marsh habitat, but I can only imagine how beautiful this paddling destination is when spring and summer months bring out bright greens and beautiful blooms of lilies and lotus.

While out in the boat, we ventured under the Causeway towards Meaher State Park so I could see it from the water. As we navigated off the main channel into the area of Meaher where there is a boat launch, there were still seedpods on some of the American lotus plants reminding me of how pretty the sights will be this summer, especially from the porch of the brand new cabins (my lodging during the trip). I was also able to enjoy a closer view of a bald eagle nest just across from the park’s beach. As we left the park and headed upriver, I got even more than I bargained for as a mature eagle soared in the sunlight. There isn’t much that tops the sight of those bright white tail feathers shining in the sun.

Once we arrived back at the boat dock at Delta Hall, I thanked the great staff at 5 Rivers for the awesome hospitality and made the short drive just across the Causeway to Meaher State Park. On the way out, I made sure to stop by the Cypress Gift Shop. The shop was filled to the brim with beautiful gifts from local artisans, and the nature nerd inside of me got a great thrill from their outstanding library of books.  Since it was raining during my afternoon shopping trip, I enjoyed the perfectly placed bench for previewing a few of the many great reads featured in the store. I couldn’t resist the urge to purchase L.J. Davenport’s Nature Journal – perhaps it will come in handy as I continue my adventures of the Eighth Day Escape Contest.

MEAHER STATE PARK

After leaving 5 Rivers, I checked into my perfectly cozy cabin at Meaher State Park. As the day came to a close, I walked out onto the Gateway to the Delta boardwalk to watch a beautiful sunset over the Mobile Bay. I then headed out for a delicious meal at one of the many great restaurants on the Causeway before calling it a night. The following morning, I started my day with a stunning sunrise view from the porch of the cabin. Kelly Reetz and CJ Jarmon from the Nature Center at Gulf State Park joined me for a morning of exploring the trails at Meaher. Louis Williams, also of Gulf State Park, shared with us exciting new trail work being done at Meaher.

If you have ever been on a nature walk with Kelly and CJ, you understand just how much you can learn from them. Within a few minutes of being on the trail, we had stumbled upon an owl pellet. Kelly began identifying the various rodent bones as we dissected our find. Owls cannot digest the fur and bones of their prey, so they pack them into pellets and spit them up. While it may sound a bit gross, it is such a cool nature find because it paints a great picture of how an owl makes its living. Often when you find a pellet under a tree, you can look up and find the nest from which it came.

Further along on our nature walk as we meandered through a stand of loblolly pines, we saw a sparrow flutter from shrub to shrub and we talked about how many sparrow species can be seen in the park, and how difficult they can be to identify! We noted the number of invasive Chinese tallow (Triadica sebifera) trees, and discussed the challenge of managing this invasive species because of its prolific seed bank. Green leaves of yaupon (Ilex vomitoria), groundsel (Baccharis halimifolia), and common sweetleaf (Symplocos tinctoria) stood out against the grayish backdrop of winter woods. The ground was soaked from recent rains, and the soil seemed to have a sheen on the top. Kelly explained that this look is characteristic of bog soils and is caused by the mineral composition.

After our walk through the piney trails, we headed to the other side of the park where the boardwalk is located. On our way, we saw several eastern bluebirds, a flycatcher, and a loggerhead shrike. The shrike was holding your place for you at campsite 31. When we made it to the trail which connects to the boardwalk, we were greeted by the “tchep” of the yellow-rumped warblers. We watched an eastern cottontail as it scurried to cover along the trail. Near the start of the boardwalk, we watched a blue-gray gnatcatcher (a new bird sighting for Kelly and me!) dance from limb to limb. To finish out our morning walk, we watched a great egret and great blue heron from the boardwalk, and a tri-colored heron seemed to pose on the boardwalk railing as we rounded the corner to head back to the entry trail. For a short walk, the Meaher boardwalk rewarded us with plenty of great bird sightings.

As I wrapped up my Meaher adventure, I went for one more look at the bald eagle nest from the beach at the park. In addition to the pier, this beach makes for great fishing opportunities, especially in the fall. With the addition of the new cabins, everyone can take advantage of this Alabama State Park gem. I hope to make a return visit very soon. I hope you will plan a visit too! In the meantime, follow them both on Facebook: Meaher State Park and 5 Rivers

IDEAS FOR YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE:

For questions about this Eighth Day Escape, email Parks Explorer at Parks.Explorer@dcnr.alabama.gov

 

Go Explore!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Eighth Day Escape

Eighth Day Escape

Contest Entry Form (Please download/save blank form before completing fields)
Contest Rules
Monthly Adventures: January, February, March, April, May (Part I), May (Part II), June

Welcome to the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer! Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.

Get Rewarded for Visiting an Alabama State Park

The contest portion of the Eighth Day Escapes adventure series will feature monthly giveaways to show appreciation to park customers for their patronage. At the end of the year, there will be a Grand Prize drawing from all contest entries throughout 2016. Entering the contest is as simple as visiting any Alabama State Park and submitting a contest entry form with a photo. Read more below.  

How to Enter:

  1. VISIT any Alabama State Park and capture photos as you explore.
  2. SUBMIT a contest entry form with photos and a brief recap of your adventure (details below).
  3. FOLLOW the Parks Explorer column on alapark.com/explorer for announcement of monthly winner.
Contestants must submit a Contest Entry Form and photos to be eligible for monthly prizes and grand prize at the end of the contest. Participants must agree to abide by contest rules. Entry forms and photos may be submitted within 30 days of trip by any of the following means:
  1. Contestants may e-mail their entry form along with digital photos (up to 5 MB) to Parks.Explorer@dcnr.alabama.gov
  2. Contestants may post their photos to our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ALStateParks/, tweet photos to @ALStateParks, or post to Instagram, tagging @alstateparks. Indicate where the image was taken and use hashtag #EighthDayEscape for all social media entries. Emailed entry form must accompany all social media photos in order for participant to be eligible.
  3. Contestants may submit entry form and printed photos by mail.
  4. Mail to: Eighth Day Escape Contest, Oak Mountain State Park, 200 Terrace Drive, Pelham, AL  35124.

CONTEST RULES

 

 

Go Explore!

 

 

Friday, January 8, 2016
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