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)


This month’s Eighth Day Escape led me to Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham. Oak Mountain is Alabama’s largest State Park, spreading across nearly 10,000 acres and boasting more outdoor recreation than I can possibly relay in this one post. Thanks to its proximity to Interstate 65, the park is easily accessible to all, and the perfect getaway for day-trippers and weekenders alike.  

On Friday, June 3, I ventured to Pelham to spend a day enjoying just a few of the adventures the park has to offer. On the agenda was cable wakeboarding, kayaking, paddle boarding, a hike on the treetop nature trail, and a visit to the bird nursery at the Alabama Wildlife Center. My husband John tagged along to help me document the day with photos, and it was his first time to really spend time in the park. I enjoyed introducing him to the amazing resource that is Oak Mountain.

Ever since Flip Side Watersports has been open at the park, I’ve wanted to see what it was all about. I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to test the waters (pun totally intended). For the sake of background information, I need to tell you that I have ZERO wakeboarding experience, and I can count on one hand the number of times I have water skied. Some of you may be like me, and be a little intimidated by the cable system at Flip Side, or maybe feel like you need to already know how to wakeboard before you go. Let me set the record straight and say that it was the perfect place to learn how to wakeboard! Jeremy and Kristen Talbot and their staff were very accommodating and helpful to this beginner. When I arrived at Flip Side, there were a couple other families checking in and getting set up for their first wakeboarding adventure. It was so much fun watching their excitement as Kristen taught them how to strap in to the boots on the board. It was even more fun watching them get out on the water for the first time.

Once I got set up with a helmet, life vest, and wakeboard, I headed down to the waterfront of Oak Mountain Lake to try my luck on the course. My main goal was just to stand up on the board! The cable operator gave me a few tips before my first ride, and before I knew it the cable started pulling me and I was up! I was surprised at how comfortable I felt being pulled by a cable (instead of boat), and how much control I felt like I had. I thoroughly enjoyed learning how to steer the wakeboard, and I challenged myself to learn how to stay on the board through the turns at each end of the course. I came close a few times (and wiped out a few times), but I’m determined I will master that skill on my next visit. Flip Side was a great place to spend my morning!

After all the excitement of wakeboarding, I was more than ready for lunch. John and I headed over to the Oak Mountain Grill (in the same building as the golf pro shop, and open to everyone). I enjoyed a burger and fries while John ate a chicken finger basket. Many of the golfers were also taking advantage of a delicious hot lunch cooked by Ms. Darlene. While we were finishing up lunch, John and I discussed just how much there is to do at the park. We could go every day for a week (or two), and still find new things to see and do. From the demonstration farm to a sunrise hike up to King’s Chair with the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center, there is always something going for all ages and interests.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch, John and I stopped at the marina to rent a kayak so we could paddle around Double Oak Lake for a while. I have to admit that kayaking was a bit more relaxing than my morning activity, and the view from the water is always the best. After we made our rounds in the kayak, I decided to check my balance on a stand-up paddle board. Paddle board: 1, Emily: 0. But hey, we’ll just say I needed the cool down on a hot summer day!

From the marina, we drove right across the road and up the hill to the Alabama Wildlife Center (AWC). The center is open to the public, and an absolute thrill to visit this time of year. The amazing staff (many are volunteers) work year round to rehabilitate injured birds for release back into the wild.  This time of year is especially busy because many species are nesting (or have just finished nesting), so the nursery is full of baby birds being nursed to health after being injured or orphaned. One of the best parts of this is that you can see the staff in action thanks to a full panel of windows in the nursery. While you are there, you are also likely to see one of the AWC’s education birds up close and personal while a staff member walks them around to introduce them to visitors. You might get to meet Legacy, a handsome male American kestrel, or you might see a red-tailed hawk or great horned owl. You can also watch many critters enjoying the bird feeders and water feature just outside the lobby windows. While I was there Friday afternoon, I watched a timber rattlesnake relax under a fern while a raccoon moseyed up a couple trees to grab a bite of food from the feeders.
 
I returned to the center the following Tuesday and had the pleasure of talking with executive director Doug Adair and education coordinator Scottie Jackson. They shared so many exciting things that are going on at the AWC, and mentioned ongoing plans and projects to create even more opportunities for visitors!   Whether you would be a first time visitor or a return visitor who has been once, twice, or a hundred times, I encourage you to make a trip to see all the great things happening at the Alabama Wildlife Center. Be sure to see the Treetop Nature Trail while you are there, too! I drove down and parked in the beach access parking lot so I would have quicker access to the enclosures along the trail, but you can also hop on the trail at the AWC, and walk down to the bird enclosures. Thanks to wheelchair and stroller accessible decking, the Treetop Nature Trail really makes it easy for anyone to see some amazing birds while you are in the park! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Neighboring the Alabama Wildlife Center is the Oak Mountain Interpretive Center (OMIC), a joint venture between Oak Mountain State Park, Samford University, and Shelby County. The OMIC is run by staff and students from Samford, and is full of great interactive exhibits with information about the park and its natural environment. Lauren Munchie is one of those students, and she showed me around the center during my latest visit. We stopped and talked about the exhibit that highlights many of the different habiat types at the park. We also watched the scrolling presentation of photos from one of their latest research projects about mammals in the park. Before I left, Lauren pulled out one of their very cool teaching snakes, a scarlet kingsnake, and we talked about some of the important roles that snakes play in our environment. There are so many things to learn about at Oak Mountain, and the OMIC provides the opportunity to do just that! 

Oak Mountain State Park truly provides something for everyone. I could have stayed an entire week, and still not have covered everything in the park. If you have never been to Oak Mountain, I hope you make plans to visit soon, and if you are a frequent park visitor, I encourage you to do something new on your next visit! 


THINGS TO DO AND PLAN FOR YOUR NEXT VISIT TO OAK MOUNTAIN STATE PARK:


ENTER TO WIN THIS MONTH'S OAK MOUNTAIN 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:

  • Stay one night in overnight accommodation of your choice at Oak Mountain, receive second night free!
  • Voucher for FREE embroidered t-shirt!
  • Two all-day passes to Flip Side!
  • Guided tour of the Alabama Wildlife Center plus a free AWC hat!
     

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): Maila Ragan
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!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016