Standing on the remains of an early hydroelectric dam, Roger Vines and David Kelley take in the late winter beauty along Hatchet Creek in central Coosa County. A longtime favorite stream of canoeists and kayakers in the know, Hatchet Creek is virtually unknown beyond the outdoor enthusiast community.
Vines, the Coosa County coordinator for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, and Kelley, a Coosa County Master Gardener, knew that opening others’ eyes to the beauty along Hatchet Creek and nearby Weogufka Creek as well as providing accurate maps could reap many benefits.
“It seemed that every couple of years, I would hear from the sheriff that someone was lost on one of these creeks,” says Vines. “People did not have any idea where good put-in and take-out points were. Even worse, they did not have good estimates on how long it would take to float portions of the creek.”
After kicking the idea around for several years, Vines wrote a grant proposal to the Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council to develop and print maps of both Hatchet and Weogufka creeks.
After getting the grant, he enlisted help from many partners including fellow county Extension agents, Extension’s Communications and Marketing department and Alabama Scenic River Trails.
Kelley, who grew up in Coosa County and returned after retirement, says that’s how he got involved.
“I have canoed for years and had property along the creek,” says Kelley. “I was part of the crew that collected data like float times and naming landmarks. I am a Master Gardener and part of what we do is give back to the community.”
The crew timed floats between creek sections, identified and named landmarks, established GPS coordinates for the landmarks and worked with landowners to establish several primitive camp sites along the creeks where paddlers could safely and legally camp overnight.
The result: a stunning publication called the “Coosa County Creeks Trail Guide and Map” featuring a mass of endangered Cahaba lilies in full bloom mid-stream on the cover.
It’s that natural beauty that Vines and Kelley think can bring benefits as well.
“We hope that the map will give people a better perspective on how beautiful Coosa County is,” says Kelley. “We believe this kind of eco-tourism will bring in much needed revenue, but leave a light footprint.”
Late winter and early spring are the best times to float both creeks when water flows are at their highest. The Cahaba lilies are in full bloom around Memorial Day.
But Vines points out there is more to see than just the lilies. There are a several historic spots including the remains of two early hydroelectric dams, a train trestle and several bridges. Shoemaker’s Cave is along Weogufka Creek where legend says a shoemaker concealed himself as he made shoes and boots for Confederate soldiers.
Nature is especially diverse along the creeks. In early spring, trilliums can be found blooming along the banks accompanied by native azaleas and mountain laurels. Wildlife, especially birds, is abundant.
Vines says the data crew found a Great blue heron rookery on Weogufka Creek. He adds a lucky paddler may also spot a bald eagle.
The waters of both creeks are abundant in life as well. Southern walleye, alligator gar and redeye bass call the creeks home as does an endangered species of snail, the Toulatoma snail.
“The Coosa County Creeks Trail Guide and Map,” ANR-1400, is online here in the Extension Store. Downloadable copies are available. You will also find a companion poster, “Some Things Are Best Seen From A Canoe,” online here. For Google Earth users, Vines has posted photos visible when you fly to Coosa County, Ala. They are also online here at Panoramio.
Click the image at left to view a short slide show on Paddling the Creeks of Coosa County.
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