Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Chickasabogue Park: Beach, Black Forest, and South Trails (Blog Hike #337)

Trails: Beach, Black Forest, and South Trails
Hike Location: Chickasabogue Park
Geographic Location: north side of PrichardAL (30.78616, -88.10185)
Length: 7 miles
Difficulty: 4/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: January 2011
Overview: An long but flat forest hike along Chickasaw Creek and an old sand pit.
Park Information: http://www.mobilecountyal.gov/living/parks_chickasabogue.html
Hike Route Map: http://www.mappedometer.com/?maproute=116132
Photo Highlight:

Directions to the trailhead: In southwest Alabama, take I-65 to SR 213 (exit 13).  Exit and go south on SR 213.  Take SR 213 2.2 miles to Whistler St. and turn left on Whistler St.  Take Whistler St.0.8 miles to Aldock Rd. and turn left on Aldock Rd.  Take Aldock Rd. 0.8 miles to the signed park entrance on the left.  Turn left to enter the park.  Pay the nominal fee at the entrance gate and park in the large beach parking lot at the very end of the main park road.

The hike: Owned and operated by Mobile CountyChickasabogue Park protects 1100 acres along the south bank of Chickasaw Creek.  As the names in the park suggest, this area saw extensive habitation by various American Indian tribes going as far back as the 1500’s.  Remains of several of their campsites have been uncovered within the park’s boundaries.
            In the late 1700’s, the Spanish settled the area, and numerous Spaniards were granted land on the north and south banks of the creek.  During the Civil War, the park’s swamps offered refuge for the residents of nearby Whistler when Union soldiers captured their village.  After the war, a sawmill and a gristmill operated on the site until 1903.  After the mills closed, numerous campgrounds and recreational facilities were built along the banks of the Chickasaw.  The same sandy creek beaches that attract visitors today attracted visitors then.
            In 1969, the Scott Paper Company donated the park’s original 750 acres of land to the county.  Current recreational facilities include a developed creekside beach, several athletic fields, a campground, and over 11 miles of trails open to hiking and mountain biking.  The only downside to hiking at Chickasabogue Park is noisy I-65, which bisects the park.  The hike described here explores the trail system east of I-65.
            Chickasabogue Park’s trail system has many trails that loop back on themselves, and thus it can be handful to navigate.  Therefore, when you stop at the entrance gate to pay your entrance fee, be sure to ask for a hiking trail map.  The hand-drawn map I was given was not the best: it was blurry from having been copied many times, but it was better than nothing.
Trailhead
            The hike starts at a yellow vehicle gate at the rear of the beach parking lot.  Just after walking around the gate, the 3-mile Cemetery Loop exits right and heads for the Myers Cemetery, a pioneer cemetery located within the park.  The Myers Cemetery has headstones dating to the mid-1800’s.  Continue straight and pass under I-65 to reach the eastern section of the trail system.  Immediately after exiting the interstate corridor, the trail forks to form a loop.  This description will continue straight here and use the trail heading right parallel to the interstate as the return route.
            In a very short distance, the trail appears to fork, but the branch continuing straight ends at the creek bank in less than 200 feet.  Thus, you should angle right to pass over a wet area on boardwalk.  Some wire fencing has been attached to the top of the boardwalk to provide extra traction on the damp wood.
Bridge over wet area
            At 0.3 miles, another side trail marked “Cypress Beach” exits to the left.  This trail is worth taking: it leads to a small, peaceful, secluded white-sand beach and picnic area along Chickasaw Creek.  The creek is lined with cypress and pine trees and is home to many types of wildlife and birds.  The side trail ends at the beach, so after taking in the view you will have to retrace your steps to the main trail and turn left to continue this hike.
Beach on Chickasaw Creek
            The trail crosses a couple more small bridges before beginning a serpentine course up the side of a low hill.  In the mountains, broad switchbacks such as these are used to ease the grade, but in low relief areas such as here they simply serve to lengthen the trail.  The curves are sufficiently tight that you can frequently see the next or previous passing of the trail to your left or right.  All trails at Chickasabogue Park are blazed with 2 colors: yellow and red.  The yellow blazes lead clockwise while the red ones lead counterclockwise.  As you hike this trail in this direction, you see only yellow blazes, but if you turn around you will see only red blazes.
            2 miles into the hike and after an especially winding section of trail, you pass through a short loop labeled “Misery,” as indicated by a wooden trail sign.  Like the blazes, the trail signs in this park are red in one direction and yellow in the other.  Contrary to its name, the “Misery” trail is quite pleasant with its young pine forest.
End of "Misery" loop
            At the end of the Misery Loop, the trail intersects an old road where an arrow directs you to turn left.  700 feet later, you reach a major trail intersection for the first of two times.  The trail leaving sharply right heads directly back to the parking lot.  We will take that trail later; taking it now would shorten this hike to 3.2 miles.  The trail leaving at a soft angle to the right will be our way back to this intersection roughly 2 hours from now.  This trail description will take the trail leaving at a soft angle to the left and head for the old sand pit.
            After passing through a sharp dip called “Nosedive,” the trail arrives at another trail intersection where you should bear left.  You are now heading east through dense pine forest over sandy soil with noisy I-65 slowly fading behind you.  At 2.4 miles, you reach the start of the Black Forest Trail, as indicated by another yellow, wooden trail sign.  Angle left to begin the Black Forest Trail.  Note that the intersection you see just ahead here is the end of the Black Forest Trail, where you will be in roughly an hour.
Start of Black Forest Trail
            Honestly, the Black Forest Trail does not make for the most invigorating hiking: the trail winds back and forth in snake-like fashion over the same 0.2 mile long stretch no less than 8 times.  Although you are in the woods, the back and forth nature of this trail feels more like doing laps around a walking track.  I-65 is quite loud on the west side of each “lap” but rather quiet on the east side.  On the final “lap,” the trail map indicates the presence of a marsh downhill to your left, but it never comes into view.
Hiking the Black Forest Trail
            At 4.3 miles, the trail makes a final right hand turn and climbs slightly, briefly leaving the sandy soil for clay soil.  At 4.4 miles, you arrive at the end of the Black Forest Trail.  A right turn here would take you back to the beginning of the Black Forest Trail, but this trail continues straight to begin the South Trail.  True to its name, this trail passes through the southernmost section of the park.
            After walking around a couple of broad switchbacks, you come to the edge of a most unusual sight for flat southern Alabama: a cliff!  This 15-foot “cliff” consists of clay dirt rather than rock, and it marks the edge of the old sand pit.  The sand pit has been reclaimed by small pine trees and other brush, so no real views can be had from the cliff top.  As you proceed along the edge of the sand pit, you eventually come to a point where you can look down the edge of the pit and see the “cliff” itself.
Edge of old sand pit
            At 5.2 miles, you arrive at Half-Pipe as it is marked on the map or Collarbone Canyon as it is named on the trail sign.  As either name suggests, the trail drops about 4 feet vertically through a steep-walled but flat-bottomed ravine only to come out in the same manner on the other side.  If the ravine looks too steep for you, a by-pass leads around the steep areas.
            After nearly reaching the southern boundary of the park, the trail curves right to begin heading northwest.  The freeway sounds become louder again.  Ignore side trails named 265 Loop, Coaster, and Dead Man’s Run to remain on the main South Trail.  Yellow signs reading “Out” now point your way, indicating you are heading into the home stretch.
Heading "Out"
            6 miles into the hike, you arrive back at the major trail intersection you left nearly 4 miles ago.  Follow the arrows marked “Out” by making a gentle left turn.  The wide two-track clay dirt path heads northbound parallel to I-65, which is beyond a chain link fence to your left.  Unlike the well-drained sandy soil you trod earlier, the less permeable clay soil here will force you to negotiate a couple of wet areas as you get closer to Chickasaw Creek.  At 6.9 miles, you close the loop where our original outbound trail exits right.  Turn left to retrace your steps under the interstate and around the vehicle gate to the beach parking lot, thus completing the hike.

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