Tuesday, June 25, 2013

5 Rivers-Alabama Delta Resource Center (Blog Hike #334)

Trails: Huger Point and Live Oak Trails
Hike Location: 5 Rivers-Alabama Delta Resource Center
Geographic Location: west of Spanish Fort, AL (30.67041, -87.93405)
Length: 1.2 mile
Difficulty: 1/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2011
Overview: A flat hike through coastal scrubland with good delta views.

Directions to the trailhead: In Mobile Bay, take I-10 to US 90/98 (exit 27).  Exit and go east on US 90/98.  The entrance to 5 Rivers is located at mile marker 42 on the left directly across from the entrance to Meaher State Park.  Turn left to enter 5 Rivers, and park in the large parking lot in front of the Shellbank Visitors Center.

The hike: Operated by the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 5 Rivers serves as the gateway to the Mobile-Tensaw Delta at the source of Mobile Bay.  These rivers’ delta has been designated a National Natural Landmark, and it comprises the second largest delta in the United States.  The name 5 Rivers comes from the number of rivers flowing into the upper end of Mobile Bay.  The rivers are, from west to east, the Mobile, Spanish, Tensaw, Apalachee, and Blakeley Rivers.
            5 Rivers itself sits on an island between the Apalachee and Blakeley Rivers at the upper end of the bay.  Several buildings adorn the grounds, including the modern Shellbanks Visitors Center, banquet facilities in Delta Hall, and Apalachee Exhibit Hall.  Tensaw Theater allows visitors to view films about the delta region.  Also, pontoon boat rides and canoe launches allow visitors to explore the delta on the water.  Call ahead for the pontoon boat’s schedule.
            There are no long trails at 5 Rivers, but the area does have a couple of short trails that are worth exploring, perhaps while you are waiting for your boat.  The hike described here explores the trails that connect the Shellbanks Visitors Center to the pontoon boat dock.
Beginning of the trail
            From the front door of the Visitors Center, angle right and walk across the parking lot to reach the trailhead, which is located at a dark green sign at the edge of the forest.  The gravel and sand trail heads into the pine forest, which consists of mature slash and loblolly pines.  Several wooden benches are placed along the trail, and bronze-colored signs help you identify the plants in the sandy coastal scrub forest that lines this trail.  Where an unmarked side trail exits right and leads to a mulching area, angle left to stay on the official trail.
Hiking the sandy trail
            At 0.3 miles, the trail enters a small clearing where a side trail to Bartram Landing, the canoe/kayak launch point, exits left.  Our hike angles right to head through a wooden gate.  This section of trail features a couple of wet spots, but they should not be a serious problem due to the well-drained sandy soil.  
At 0.35 miles, you reach a major trail intersection with trails heading left, right, and straight.  The trail going left leads to the pontoon dock and will be our eventual return route.  The trail going straight leads to Huger Point, and we will use it in a few minutes.  For now, turn right to begin the Live Oak Loop.  This loop is only 0.1 miles long, but it leads through a shady cluster of live oak trees and gives a refreshing change from the pine forest you have been hiking through thus far.  More bronze-colored signs point out some of the live oak trees, and a couple of benches allow you to sit and admire the trees, many of which have branches very close to the ground.
The Live Oak
After completing the Live Oak Loop, turn sharply right to head for Huger Point.  In another 300 feet the trail exits the forest to intersect a gravel path beside the lodge parking area.  Angle left to walk along the gravel path, cross the main park road, and head out to Huger Point.
The dark, shady forest has been left far behind as the wide gravel path takes a wide arc around Huger Point.  Huger Point lies on the north end of this island with the Blakeley River to the right and Sardine Pass around the bend to the left.  The long, clear views and the shrubby area between the trail and the river bank would make this a nice spot to bird watch during the fall or spring migrations.  During my visit on a grey late-afternoon in mid-winter, there was little activity to be seen of the human or fowl variety.
Huger Point
The wide gravel trail ends at the pontoon boat launch, which was closed on my visit.  Apalachee Exhibit Hall and Tensaw Theater are also located here.  Head left of the buildings, cross the park road, and walk through another parking lot to pick up the trail that re-enters the forest at another dark green sign.  Very quickly you arrive back at the major trail intersection with the Live Oak Loop and Huger Point trails.  Angle right and retrace your steps back through the pine forest to the Visitors Center parking lot to complete the hike.

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