|Alabama Growing Destination for Trail Hikers|
Unique Geology, Wildlife and History are Attractions
The Alabama Hiking Trail Society (AHTS) hosted its annual conference at the Alabama 4-H Center in Columbiana March 9-11, offering over 18 hiking and backpacking presentations, regaling attendees with accounts of local and long distance trail adventures, and engaging them with invaluable information about state trails including preservation and building efforts, the abundant and rich wildlife gracing our state, and wildlife and land conservation.
"Our conference attendees have always enjoyed a wide variety of presentations from our guest speakers. Their presentations range from the practical and educational all the way to entertaining. Orienteering classes, gear demos, land management policies, members’ hiking experience and storytelling were a few of the topics offered this year. We even went international this year with representatives visiting from the International Appalachian Trail as well as a member sharing his experiences as he hiked New Zealand," said AHTS President Mike Kennedy.
Former AHTS President Joe Cuhaj said the conference catered to hikers and backpackers as well as showed the general public the importance of hiking in Alabama.
"Alabama is certainly becoming a major tourist destination for hikers," he said.
The Alabama Trails Commission (ATC), an entity of Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs overseeing a wide range of recreational trails, started the conference with a meeting, opened to the public and conference attendees, providing insight into the future of trails in the state.
Michael Leonard of ATC served as keynote speaker.
Leonard said Tom Cosby of Birmingham gave a much anticipated presentation on connecting the Appalachian Trail with Alabama, stipulating it should terminate in Coosa County at Flagg Mountain.
"There were many historical references offered supporting this ‘final’ extension, along with as many reasons for leaving things as they are with Springer Mountain in Georgia as the southern terminus," Leonard said. "The publicity surrounding this proposal even brought to our conference a representative of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which manages and preserves the Appalachian Trail. The spirited discussion following Tom’s presentation showed an almost equal amount of support for both cases. No matter what the final outcome, I believe it will be a win for Alabama, introducing many to the wonderful outdoors of our state."
Attendees gained an integral message about the importance of volunteering.
"Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, Alabama State Parks, Alabama’s Forever Wild Program and the State Forestry Commission were all in accord discussing their budget cutbacks and how these will affect the trails in Alabama. What is needed to help fill the void are organizations like AHTS with groups of volunteers willing and able to invest their sweat equity in building and maintaining hiking trails in Alabama. Since AHTS members have for many years been engaged in these activities around the state, it was with pride we renewed our pledge to continue doing our part to help bring Alabama to the people," he explained.
Cuhaj said Dr. Doug Phillips, the executive producer and host of the Emmy award-winning production, "Discovering Alabama," revealed how unique the state’s geology and wildlife is compared to the rest of the country’s, especially in regards to the number of species of wildlife and fish.
Raven Christopher, an archaeologist at University of South Alabama’s Center for Archaeological Studies, discussed The Federal Road which, mostly spanning from Fort Mitchell to Mount Vernon in modern-day Alabama, began as a post road through the Creek Indian Nation in the 1800s and became a major transportation route for European settlers.
In her presentation, Christopher relayed the historical significance of the road as well as the University of South Alabama’s methods of surveying the road and archaeological findings.
State historians and AHTS members John and Kelly Hoomes combined their enthusiasm for trails and history in a presentation on historic trails in the state.
AHTS Gulf Coast Member Juli Day demonstrated how backpackers can prepare and pack lightweight meals for their excursions for her well-attended presentation.
Daniel Powell, Alabama Black Bear Alliance, which works to conserve the black bear population in Alabama, spoke about how the black bear population has been on a steady increase in our state.
Attendees learned about the latest hiking and backpacking gear during Mountain High Outfitters’ demonstration.
The conference included a social at which singer/songwriter India Ramey delighted guests with her music.
Other activities and presentations included an AHTS roundtable discussion about their mission and trail projects, AHTS member Chris Arnott’s account of his 50-mile hike through New Zealand, a backpacking and hiking presentation by Forrest Bailey of Alabama’s State Parks, a presentation about the International Appalachian Trail by Don Hudson, a dehydrated food taste testing, a presentation by Skip Essman on leading a successful hike/LNT refresher course, a presentation by Jim Fielder on how the Alabama Trails Commission is assisting the state’s hikers and their development of trail towns, a presentation on orienteering by Beth McCandless, Forever Wild Program Recreation Activity Coordinator and Wetland Land Acquisition Grant Coordinator’s presentation on Forever Wild, a USDA Forest Service roundtable discussion about the state’s forests, and a presentation by Shaw Waddell on his part in helping to initiate the Desoto Scout Trail project and current efforts to resurrect what was once a magnificent 20-mile hiking trail.
Cuhaj said individuals who want to become involved in outdoor activities can check out links on AHTS’s website, www.hikealabama.org/.
He recommended one such organization called Fresh Air Family which offers a number of programs for families including hiking, camping, canoeing, birding, star gazing, fossil hunting, orienteering and caving programs as well as a program focused on the search of all sizes of creatures.
Leonard relayed current projects of AHTS.
"We currently maintain over 40 miles of the Pinhoti Trail in the Talladega National Forest, are building a loop trail around Flagg Mountain in Coosa County, surveying a 5.5-mile Pinhoti extension next to Weogufka State Forest and Flagg Mountain, built and maintain a loop trail in Geneva State Forest, maintain two trails in Little River State Forest, are surveying a trail in the Conecuh National Forest to connect the Conecuh Trail to a Florida Trail extension at the state line, and work with Forever Wild in helping maintain the trails at the Walls of Jericho in the northeast corner of the state along with building a linear trail in the Coosa WMA," he said.
"Lastly, we are developing the first section of the Alabama Trail from Fort Morgan to Little River State Forest that will one day extend up the west side of the state to the Shoals area and then over to the Walls of Jericho," he continued.
As new president, he said his agenda includes strengthening and developing association chapters which he stipulated would be crucial to the organization’s growth.
"A ruck is an informal gathering of hikers and outdoor enthusiasts at a campground for a weekend of fellowship and storytelling," he said. "It also kicks off the fall hiking season for most of us."
Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.