Alabama
Scenic River Trail

At
631 miles, the Alabama Scenic River Trail is the longest river trail
in a single state. The Trail was designated as a National Recreation
Trail about the time of its official opening in the summer of 2008.
While the goal of an established campground every ten miles has yet
to be achieved in all areas of the Trail, that hasn’t kept paddlers
from doing its entire length as a unit. Richard
Grove (GCA Member) and Ardie Olsen have both done the trail on contiguous days;
Ardie’s extraordinary speed earned him the thousand-dollar 631
prize in the fall of 2008.

The Alabama Scenic River Trail isn’t only about long distance
paddling. Day trips, historic destinations, semi-sup-ported group
paddles, overnight trips and extended paddling adventures are to be
found along the Coosa and Alabama Rivers and through the
Mobile-Tensaw Delta.

The
trail begins on the Coosa River at the Georgia state line and winds
its way across nine beautiful lakes, with scenery ranging from
magnificent wildlife preserves and steep stone cliffs to the tranquil
beauty of the secluded creeks of the Delta region-the second largest
delta in the US. The Trail follows seven rivers and two creeks
through a wide variety of types of paddling and scenery. After
passing through the Delta, the route follows the eastern shore of
Mobile Bay, ending at historic Ft. Morgan. From ridge-and-valley
scenery in the uplands to the salt water of the delta, the Alabama
Scenic River Trail is unsurpassed for variety. There is a great
whitewater section in the six miles leading into the City of
Wetumpka, just above Montgomery. To aid you in the long portage of
nearby Jordan Dam is our Member and Trail Angel Glenn Dean,
gypsy5262@aol.com or call 334.201.1890.

Hopping
down the lakes of the Coosa means hopping around the dams of the
Alabama Power Company. All of these lakes, in order from the state
line south — Weiss Lake, Neely Henry Lake, Logan Martin Lake, Lay
Lake, Mitchell Lake and Jordan Lake — along with their respective
dams, offer established and signed portages. Paddlers will find
adequate portage at each dam with the exception of Mitchell Dam,
whose topography is so steep that a portage would require superhuman
strength, though it is done, most easily by groups.

Given
that most of us paddling Alabama rivers are mere mortals, a shuttle
has been arranged by the organizers of the Alabama Scenic River
Trail. Paddlers in need of a shuttle around Mitchell Dam should
contact G.R.A.C.E.’s Marina (punctuation shown is correct… the
marina’s name is a combination of the family’s initials) at
205.280.4110. There will be a modest charge to cover mileage on this
twelve mile ride, and be sure to give 24 hours notice if possible.

Montgomery

When
approaching Montgomery from upstream the river undulates mostly north
and south around two hairpin bends before the southerly three-mile
straight stretch into the arms of the city. Just after the North
Boulevard Bridge passes overhead, look left for the Montgomery City
Marina. The marina’s lofty restaurant decks assure a fine view of
the river and its doings.

The
Montgomery Marina and the Montgomery Riverwalk in sight of it provide
various amenities to the traveler and access to the town, its culture
and history.

Below
Montgomery, paddlers can lock through the Robert F. Henry Dam and
continue downriver. The locks generally operate from 6 a.m. until 2
p.m., and again at 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. the next morning. Call the
lockmaster at 334.872.9525 for a current schedule or for directions
to the canoe or kayak portage if you plan to arrive during
non-operational times.

The
banks are steep enough in this part of the river that lock operation
and water level control by the dam do not appreciably change the
width of the river.


Selma

Below
Durant’s Bend are the unmistakable Cunningham Bluffs, and less than
ten miles below them is the Highway 80 bridge, a signal that the city
of Selma is not more than a mile or so further.

The
Edmund Pettus Bridge, which comes into view next, was the scene of a
bloody confrontation between civil rights demonstrators who had had
enough of the old ways and the authorities that intended to force
their obedience with violent means. The struggle and subsequent long
march over the bridge and on to Montgomery is today a legend of
American heroism that brings many visitors to Selma.

South
of Selma, which has taken a meandering but primarily east-to-west
course from Montgomery, the river takes a dive for Mobile. From Selma
to its terminus at the birth of the Mobile River, the Alabama may
wander through loops, bights and bends but never strays its aim far
from its end 38 miles above the Gulf of Mexico.

The
Big Bends

In
the near-figure-eight that is the combination of Canton Bend and Gees
Bend, are several places to step out of the river and into
civilization and vice-versa. Two of the best in the area-and maybe on
the entire river-are Roland Cooper State Park and Miller’s Ferry
Campground, the latter operated by the U.S. Army Corps of engineers.
Only nine miles or so apart by land, they are about 20 river miles
apart. Both are on the east bank of the river (Miller’s Ferry
Campground was formerly called and still appears on some maps as East
Bank Campground) and both offer beautiful views of the sun dropping
into the Alabama every fair evening.

Roland
Cooper State Park features a small store; there are no provisions at
Miller’s Ferry Campground. The campground is adjacent to Millers
Ferry Marina, which caters primarily to powercraft but whose operator
will take care of all who come his way, however they arrive. Roland
Cooper State Park offers river access by way of docks and an
excellent ramp. Miller’s Ferry Campground features both a ramp and
several small docks for paddle craft that step right into well
developed campsites.

Claiborne

South
of Claiborne, the river loops into the low lands of the Mobile-Tensaw
River Delta, second only to Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Delta in size.
Here, the Alabama soon joins with the Tensaw and the Mobile River
rises. Between these latter two giants, a jungle world of capillary
creeks and streams work back and forth to host hundreds of miles of
habitat rich in birds, fish, and mammals to which you are invited to
include yourself in a number of ways.

The
perfect place to explore this, the final stretch of the Alabama River
before its realm broadens into the wide alligator jaws of Mobile Bay,
is Isaac Creek Campground just north (in fact in sight of) the
Claiborne Lock and Dam. Operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers,
the campground offers full service sites with concrete pads that can
accommodate the biggest rigs with boats and toys in tow but are
secluded and wooded enough to satisfy the primitive camper. Fishing
must be good here if the number of boats are any indication.

Isaac
Creek Campground is clean and well kept, but it’s not exactly in
the middle of civilization. Monroeville is the nearest town of any
size. There is only one place to buy diesel fuel, and that is on the
stretch of County Road 21 a few miles south of the road into the
campground. Bring what you need except ice, which is available at the
gatehouse. Directions vary depending on where you are arriving from.
For information, call the gatehouse at 334.282.4254.

If
you are traveling in this area, Alabama Scenic River Trail Vice
President Linda Vice will be of service to Trail paddlers. She can be
reached at 334.636.5505.

The
Tensaw-Mobile Delta

Around
a cat’s cradle of waterways strung between the Mobile and Tensaw
rivers in a ten-mile-wide swath lies 2,550,000 acres of the
second-largest river delta in the nation (only Louisiana’s
Atchalafaya is larger). It is the last refuge of the state’s black
bear population and home to endangered species including the Alabama
redbellied turtle. If you eat seafood from the Alabama gulf coast,
chances are that it was born here in the delta. Comprising only the
135th part of the state’s total area, the delta shouldered half of
the state’s 20th century extinctions. What will the 21st century
lose? Hopefully, for all our sakes, not the other half.

The
Bartram Canoe Trail

Once
you pass under the power lines at mile 7.5 you’re in the realm of
Alabama’s Bartram Canoe Trail, a peaceful maze of Alabama jungle
designed for the paddling naturalist and outdoor-seeker. Travelers on
the Trail can go out for the day from a number of landing for
one-day, two-day or longer trips. You may never get closer to
wildlife than you can in the trail’s intimate creeks and bayous.

Floating
and land-based campsites and platforms have been established to
provide canoe and kayak travelers with accommodations for eight or
less, though at Dead Lake Island the platforms can accommodate larger
groups. Reservations must be made online at
www.bartramcanoetrail.com.

Excellent
maps with detailed preparation information are free by request by
calling or writing Alabama’s Delta Five Rivers Resource Center,
30945 Five Rivers Boulevard, Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527, telephone
251.625.0814.

Fort
Morgan and the end of the trail If you’re traveling on the Alabama
Scenic River Trail, you’re paddling the last miles of a trip that
may have brought you from as far away as the Georgia state line some
600 miles away. To finish the trail at its terminus near Ft. Morgan
on the tip of the Ft. Morgan peninsula, the paddler will need another
night or two to sleep and rest before climbing out at the Ft. Morgan
Public Landing near the ferry terminal.

Accommodations
on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay are difficult to come by, but
assistance can be had from the paddling community who can help you at
www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com. The association’s guidebooks
provide reasonably up-to-date information, but the web and the
contact you will find there will have the up to the minute last word
on the subject.

The
problem for the paddler is that the string of coastal towns south of
Spanish Fort don’t bother to provide adequate access for boaters
not owning their own dock or having membership in a yacht club.
Virtually no land suitable for putins or take-outs has escaped the
intentions of coastal developers. That said, there are places to stop
and even to stay. You just have to check in with
www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com to discover them.

by
Jim Felder
From The Eddy Line, April 2009