Working for Alabama’s Trails in 2023
The Alabama Trails Foundation (ATF) supports trails that can bring Alabama’s many cultures and peoples together. We support using trails to help tell stories that are woven of the many cultures from Alabama’s past who have made this land a home, while bringing us together on a common path moving forward.
We’ve worked with our partners, we’ve tackled projects, big and small, concentrating on those projects requiring the leadership only a nongovernmental organization like ATF can provide. Through all these partnerships, we’ve balanced the need for long-term solutions to Alabama’s trails that rely on recognizing the value of getting outside, of experiencing the best Alabama has to offer while ensuring that everyone feels welcome to enjoy Alabama.
Together, we’ve made some great strides in 2023!
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Alabama Trails Foundation joins the Innovate Alabama Network
Innovate Alabama is building a network of organizations who are shaping the future of Alabama – and they invited us to join their team! We’re very excited to be part of a collaborative network of change agents working for our state. One of the keys to Alabama’s future is building outdoor recreation infrastructure that will recruit and retain the next generation of innovators and leaders.
Alabama Trails Foundation is ready to answer that call, as the state-wide non-governmental organization working with multiple levels of government to ensure sustainable and inclusive outdoor recreation. Official recognition was presented on December 13, 2023 as Governor Kay Ivey declared the day as Innovate Alabama Day. Dr. Condoleezza Rice, who’s team from the Hoover Institution helped advance Innovate Alabama’s focus spoke. “To see my home state of Alabama come together in this way to put the future of Alabama on this road is really exciting,” says Dr. Rice.
Above: Board member Paul DeMarco attended the ceremony to accept the award.
Shining A Light on Flagg Mountain
To share the beauty of this special place we commissioned award winning photographer, Art Meripol to take quality photos of the tower, trail, and landscape. We were blessed with a beautiful day with an array of green hues as Alabama’s forest awaken in the spring. Art’s skills as a photographer were at their best as he captured the sun coming through the windows of the tower, giving a beautiful early-morning glow to the whole mountain. These photographs are finding their way to magazines and marketing materials that share Alabama’s beauty across the world. (photo above)
The Flagg Mountain’s beauty is important, but it also has a cultural history and a rare ecology. Sharing and better understanding the multiple assets at Flagg led us on a journey in 2023. Joining us in this exploration was the Alabama Council for the Arts. We began building a team to exam how the tower building could be a refuge and a respite as well as a place of inspiration and instruction. Our team included, Cheryl Morgan, Auburn University Professor emeritus and known for her ability to convene groups and inspire them to create great things; Will McGarity, Stick Architecture and the visionary behind the design of the renovated stairs in the tower; and Jay Lamar, recently the executive director of the Alabama Bicentennial celebration and someone deeply knowledgeable about arts and artisans across Alabama.
We spent the winter and spring talking to everyone we could about arts engagement developing a network of artists, historians, and natural resource professionals. We dug deep into conversations with local and state-level art program leaders so that we could better understand what is working well, what is missing, and what if anything needs to be duplicated. We were very cognizant of others working on what seemed to be similar programs.
In June, we invited this network to Flagg Mountain for a conversation. The meeting room at the base of the tower provided a comfortable place to share ideas and ask questions. The thick rock walls let the room be a refuge from the elements. Acknowledging that the Flagg Mountain Tower is a “commissioned artwork” that is not likely repeated was a moment of reckoning. We delved into the ways the “mountain” could be used to share the culture of the people who live, work, and play in east Alabama.
In the fall, with support from the Alabama State Council on the Arts, we hosted two events that combined the arts, culture, and ecology of the mountain. In September, Birds, Beats, and Bach showcased Alabama musicians and experts in conversation about the mountain’s ecology and natural history, and helped introduce new people to Flagg. In October, Poets, Pines and Plein Air featured artists, writers, and naturalists who shared information about the mountain’s ecology and natural history. Over 100 people attended the two events, highlighting the potential for Flagg Mountain to bring people into Coosa County and experience Alabama’s First Mountain first hand.
In November we enhanced the trail to the tower by adding native stone to serve as seating and pause points. Travelers now have places to rest and soak in the landscape, enjoy a snack, or a conversation. Stone was chosen for its durability and natural resilience to the managed fire that is an integral part of the native montane longleaf ecosystem.
Good Science and Due Diligence
Jogloma Scott Lake on the Pinhoti Project Moving Forward
Macknally Land Design designed an overall site plan for this historic site, located just a few miles from the Porter’s Gap trailhead. From flagging trees to researching the historical significance of the site, we’ve been hard at work to change this location along the trail into one that can accommodate new users. The flags mean several different things. Some are flagging invasive species. We want more native species—better for the landscape and for the animals that live there. Some are flagging the really important trees. When work begins on the project, some trees have been determined as very important to protect. And some flags are there to help the team carefully catalog the many moving parts to the project. Katie Shakour, PhD, RPA (pictured below) with the University of Alabama worked to catalog the cultural resources found at Jogloma Scott Lake and to explain the process to everyone with a passion for the place.
Upcoming partnership with Talladega College
Working with Department chair and Assistant Professor of Biology Andy Coleman of Talladega College, ATF is looking for a student from the school who can participate in a one year VISTA program in association with AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is the federal agency for national service and volunteerism. AmeriCorps provides opportunities for Americans of all backgrounds to serve their country, address the nation’s most pressing challenges, and improve lives and communities. Plans for this partnership work are intended to extend beyond the one year volunteer position, and provide new ways for trails in Alabama to provide an impact to a wider number of potential participants. (Dr. Coleman pictured taking water samples above)
ATF Board Planning Session at Pinhoti Ridge Retreat
Board members David Perry, Paul DeMarco, Katherine Avants, Maggie Cunningham, Ann Haas, Wendy Jackson, Taylor Pursell, Tom Carruthers, and Maye Head joined ATF staff on the trail for a day of planning, of looking at past successes, upcoming challenges and ways to broaden our reach statewide while continuing to provide steady leadership for Alabama’s longest footpath, the Pinhoti.
Supporting Communities, Building Partnerships
Alabama’s Corporate Leaders Invest in Trails
2023 began with Alabama Power Company’s Power of Good Foundation investing $150,000 in Alabama Trails Foundation. Their partnership has allowed the incorporation of an outdoor education component along the Pinhoti at Jogloma-Scott Lake. Working with Talladega College’s Biology Department, the design now includes platforms and easier access to the lake and riparian ecosystem along the trail. Terry Smiley, Vice President Eastern Division, Alabama Power Company and Alabama Trails Foundation Board Member, shared “it is our pleasure to invest in the Jogloma Scott Lake Project. The site plan for the improvements continues the high caliber planning and design that has become the norm for the Alabama Trails Foundation. We are proud to be a partner.”
The Honda Foundation also invested in Jogloma-Scott and in June they came to visit.
Honda Foundation’s Nicole Hilton (Corporate Social Responsibility, Community Relations) joined board members Wendy Jackson, 2nd VP; Tom Carruthers Past President, and Katherine Avants along with Cindy Ragland, Joe Watts, and DeForest Tuggle to tour Piedmont, Alabama and hear the importance of the trails to small town economies.
During the visit we got an inside look at the soon-to-open Pinhoti Pizza Company, had lunch at a local restaurant, and made a trip to the Pink E. Burns trailhead in Rabbitown. Several business owners were on hand to share the importance of trail users to their business strategies. We were invited to continue the conversation with Honda and are planning a Honda volunteer day in the spring.
Alabama Outdoors in Homewood Hosted the Alabama Trails Foundation
With live music, food trucks and support from many friends and the wonderful folks at Alabama Outdoors, $1700 was raised to support our efforts along the Pinhoti and across Alabama.
Celebrate Trails Day 2023 Was a HUGE Success!!!
This event was a collaboration between the Alabama Trails Foundation, Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association, Pinhoti Pizza Company, and others. The cities of Anniston, Jacksonville and Piedmont all contributed with staff support and collaboration, Jacksonville State University (JSU) helped with the Economic Development program conducting surveys and the Trail Science Institute recruited new students.
The day highlighted how important trails are for economic development, community well-being, and regional connections. Maggie Cunningham, board member and secretary of the Alabama Trails Foundation joined in the celebration as a board member, a resident and business owner. “It was so exciting having the municipalities, university, state level organizations and businesses all working together. I appreciate all of you and your efforts. The coolest thing to me is I think we can do better. We’ve already started planning for the 2024 Celebrate Trails Day!”
AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service (VISTA)
The Alabama Trails Foundation expanded their partnership with the UAB AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA) program in 2023. Our VISTAs in Calhoun and Clay Counties work alongside towns to identify economic, community, and public health needs that can be met by trails, and they work to implement projects that can create sustainable positive change in these areas. One of our VISTAs collaborated with the City of Piedmont and East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission to apply for and receive $350,000 in funding for a Recreational Trails Program grant to repave the Piedmont Section of the Chief Ladiga trail.
Our newest VISTA has worked to analyze data collected from events at Flagg mountain and from trail counters at various locations along the Pinhoti. This information can be utilized to better understand trail users and how to encourage them to engage more with local business and trail maintaining groups. Both of our VISTAs work on our grant writing team to fund various projects along the trail, and they help with events supporting the trail.
Governor Ivey signs agreement that will improve Alabama’s Pinhoti Trail
Governor Ivey signed an agreement on August 1, 2023 to strengthen the coordination between the USDA Forest Service, Alabama Forestry Commission, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for the sustainable management of Alabama’s Pinhoti Trail System. The result of decades of successful collaboration between government, non-profit steward organizations, and volunteers, the Alabama Pinhoti Trail is one of the principal treasures of the state’s trail system – both a major asset to local communities and a driver of outdoor recreational tourism across the region.
David Perry, President, Alabama Trails Foundation commented: “The Pinhoti would not be the trail it is today without decades of hard work and dedication of trail volunteer groups and successful collaboration between government and non-profit steward organizations. We will continue to support these and other stakeholders in having their voices heard as we collaborate and partner to sustain and improve the Pinhoti Trail.”