Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bankhead National Forest

     The land of 1,000 waterfalls! It is difficult to choose a favorite waterfall of the many you can find in the Bankhead National Forest. The forest is truly a land of enchantment. Located in three counties in Northwest Alabama, the Bankhead is Alabama largest at 181,280 acres. It offers first class horse trails, hiking trails, and boating, fishing, swimming and canoeing streams.
      Established as Alabama National Forest on January 15, 1918 the forest first claimed 12,000 acres. On June 19, 1936 it was renamed Black Warrior National Forest but this title was changed again on June 17, 1942 to William B. Bankhead National Forest. Bankhead was a prominent member of the U.S. Congress who supported the funding and expansion of the forest. The name was changed in order to honor Bankhead for his efforts.
      Acreage in the forest increase to 66,008 and later expansions brought it up to the current size of 181,280. The Counties of Winston and Lawrence host the major portions of forest lands but Franklin County can claim a small sliver of the Western Kinlock section of the Bankhead.
     In the heart of the Bankhead Forest, a wilderness area has been carved out in order to allow the land and its habitat to return to a primitive condition. Designated as a wilderness area in 1975, the Sipsey Wilderness area was expanded in 1988 and now encompasses 24,922 acres. It was the first wilderness area to be declared east of the Mississippi River and is currently the third largest in the Eastern United States.
     Located on the Sipsey Fork of the Black Warrior River, the designated wilderness zone is achieving the desired purpose of allowing the region to return to its wild and primitive state. The Sipsey River originates at the confluence of Hubbard and Thompson Creeks and channels water into Lewis Smith Lake, and then to the Black Warrior River. Joining the Tombigbee River downstream at Demopolis, Alabama, the water then empties into the Alabama River. The journey of the water then spills into the Mobile River which empties into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. The upper portion of the Sipsey constitutes Alabama’s only wild and Scenic River and offers excellent canoeing in season when there is adequate water flow.
     In the bowels of the wilderness area, there are no roads and only a few hiking trails. Hikers and backpackers bushwhack over hills and valleys, but this should be attempted only with extreme caution. In the summer there is the danger of snakes, ticks, heat exhaustion, entanglements and the danger of becoming lost. In the wintertime there remains the danger of becoming lost, storms, floods, ice, and hypothermia. The days are shorter and one must be careful while bushwhacking so as not to be caught in the wild country after sundown.
     From one end of the forest to the other there are numerous sites which will well reward the visitor with incredible vistas. Maintained by the U.S. Forest service, they provide information to assist the visitor during their visit to the forest. They maintain an office on highway 33 north of Double Springs. A stop at their office would be worthwhile as the personal there would be able to direct one to places in the forest which might be of interest to the visitor.
     One should be aware that the digging of herbs, artifacts or disturbing the natural habitat within forest boundaries is unlawful. Outside the wilderness area there are well maintained forest roads that permit a leisurely traverse through the forest in a motor vehicle. The autumn foliage offers a memorable excursion along the forest roads. A short stop at easily accessible location throughout the forest will enhance the experience. These places include the Natural Bridge north of highway 278 near old Houston, Pine Torch Church, Sipsey River Picnic Area, and Kinlock Spring. 
     Fortunately, the vision of some of our elders has preserved a truly priceless region in the Warrior Mountains of Northwest Alabama for the enjoyment of our, and future generations. We should enjoy it and carefully preserve it for the pleasure and education of our descendents.

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