Monday, January 30, 2017

Frank Jackson State Park (Blog Hike #617)

Trails: Honeysuckle, Azalea, Dogwood, and Magnolia Trails
Hike Location: Frank Jackson State Park
Geographic Location: west of Opp, AL
Length: 2 miles
Difficulty: 2/10 (Easy)
Last Hiked: January 2017
Overview: An interesting figure-eight route that includes two boardwalks and an island in W.F. Jackson Lake.

Directions to the trailhead: From downtown Opp, drive Main Street north 0.6 miles to Jeffcoat Avenue.  Turn left on Jeffcoat Ave., which turns into Opine Road after you leave town.  Drive a total of 1.1 miles from Main St. to the park entrance on the right.  Turn right to enter the park, and pay the park entrance fee at the gatehouse.  Immediately after passing the gatehouse, turn right to head for the swimming parking area.  Park in the swimming parking area, which is the lot on the left as you approach the lake.  A playground and picnic shelter are also located here.

The hike: Consisting of 2050 acres in south-central Alabama, Frank Jackson State Park is centered around Lake Jackson, a 1037 acre impoundment of Lightwood Knot Creek.  The park opened as Lightwood Knot Creek State Park in 1970, but in the 1980’s it was renamed for Walter Frank Jackson, this area’s long-serving member of the Alabama House of Representatives who was instrumental in establishing the park.  The park is a major fishing destination due to the lake’s bass, bream, crappie, and catfish, and it hosts fishing tournaments regularly.  A 32-site campground, swimming area, playground area, boat ramp, and 3 camper cabins round out the park’s amenities.
            For hikers, the park offers 4 short trails that total about 3 miles.  The trails vary from lakeside to upland forest environments, and this park makes a nice add-on if you are hiking at the much larger Conecuh National Forest 20 miles to the southwest.  The route described here uses parts of all 4 trails and forms a figure-eight double loop with the trailhead at the pinch.
Start of Honeysuckle Trail
            Perhaps the park’s best trail is the Honeysuckle Trail, which forms a 0.7 mile loop around an island in Jackson Lake and the northern lobe of our figure-eight route.  To start with the Honeysuckle Trail, walk downhill toward the lake and angle right to cross a wooden footbridge, the only dry-foot access to this island.  An information kiosk on the mainland side of the bridge tells you that this is the G. Cleve Pierce Memorial Footbridge, and a small green sign announces this route as the Honeysuckle Trail.  An angler was trying his luck from this bridge when I crossed it.
            Upon reaching the island, ignore a trail that continues straight beside another information kiosk and turn right to begin a counterclockwise journey around the perimeter of the island, passing through a small picnic area en route.  The largest trees on this island are pines, but some yaupon lives in the wetter areas.  At 0.45 miles, you reach a grassy area on the southwestern tip of the island.  Some benches offer nice views of the lake, which was very calm when I hiked here about an hour before sunset.
W. Frank Jackson Lake
            Angle left to leave the grassy area and walk along the south side of the island.  A couple of new wooden bridges carry you over wet areas.  At 0.65 miles, you close the island loop when you return to the long footbridge over the lake.  Turn right to cross back to the mainland and complete the north lobe of the figure-eight.
            If you only wanted to hike around the island, the parking lot that contains your car sits just uphill.  To explore some of the park’s other trails, turn right and walk along the lake shore to pick up the Azalea Trail, which enters the woods behind the playground equipment.  Some interpretive signs describe birds commonly seen near the lake including bald eagles, herons, and hawks.
Seth Hammett Walkway
            At 0.9 miles, you reach the east end of the Seth Hammett Walkway, another long footbridge that crosses an inlet of Jackson Lake.  Turn right to walk across the walkway.  Looking to the right will yield a nice view of the island you just walked around.  After crossing the walkway, you come to an unsigned trail intersection with the Dogwood Trail.  The option going right leads only to the campground, so unless you are camping here you should turn left to head away from the lake.  A wetland appears downhill to the left as the trail passes under some power lines.
            1.1 miles into the hike, you reach the park entrance road you drove in on.  To continue this hike, angle left and use the road’s bridge to cross a small unnamed creek, then look for the unsigned Magnolia Trail on the right.  Turn right to leave the road before turning left to begin a short climb on the gravel Magnolia Trail.  The forest here features a dense understory of honeysuckle.
Starting the Magnolia Trail
            After passing back under the power lines, the camper cabins come into view as you top the hill.  Instead of going directly back to the parking area, the trail curves right to make a final loop through the woods east of the camper cabins.  A gradual descent delivers you to the lake shore, where a sharp left turn brings you on a westward course.  Soon a picnic shelter comes into view, which signals the end of the Magnolia Trail.  Walk around the picnic shelter and across the boat ramp parking lot to return to the swimming parking lot and complete the hike.

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