It was Veteran’s Day and we were off work, so decided to go hiking. We went to the Tuskegee National Forest, about 45 minutes from Montgomery. It’s one of the smaller National Forests, and the first we’ve checked out around here. It being Veteran’s Day, the ranger station was closed, but we managed to find the trail head just fine. It’s the William Bartram National Recreation Trail, and it loops around the park.
The USDA Forest Service site says the trail is 8 1/2 miles long, but the Alabama Tourism Department site says differently. In any case, we didn’t make the whole loop – although the trail is really nice and well-maintained for the first few miles, we lost the trail a ways in and had to double back. It looked like there were some ties around trees in the area where the trail got lost, but the forest is fairly dense and devoid of landmarks, so we thought the sensible thing to do was to leave. In any case, we walked several miles. The dog came too, in our continuing quest to find things to do with dogs off the leash around here. She’s not so good at coming back when called, and had quite an adventure off by herself for a little while, which caused a little anxiety until she came trotting back covered with brambles and looking quite pleased with herself.
The forest is nice. Evidently it used to be farmland, and was mostly clearcut until it was purchased under the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (also known as the Submarginal Land Program, according to the USDA). The idea of this program was to buy and repurpose old, used-up farmland. The feds bought the more than 10,000 acres in the 30s, but Tuskegee wasn’t declared a National Forest until the Eisenhower administration.
Also interesting: the main hiking trail here is named for William Bartram, a famous American naturalist (we’d never heard of him, but evidently he had many crazy adventures touring the
United States and documenting plants, animals, and the native inhabitants), who came through here in 1776. There are a number of things named for Bartram all over the American South. There’s a Bartram Trail that traces his journey through Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Here in Alabama there’s something called the Bartram Canoe Trail, and it seems pretty awesome – more than 200 miles of canoe trails, and campsites that float! Also there’s a William Bartram Arboretum in Fort Toulouse-Jackson Park in nearby Wetumpka. We’ve been meaning to get over to Fort Toulouse – look for more Bartram updates here soon.
After our hike we drove through Tuskegee. Tuskegee University is there, and the campus is lovely. We’ll be making a trip back to check out the museums there. The town itself is pretty decimated – a nice town square area features a lot of empty buildings and not much to do – we decided to save the coffee house for our subsequent trip.
The county court house faces the square, and it is super interesting. The sign out front informed us that Macon County was actually considered for abolition in the 1950s “due to civil rights-era hysteria.” Evidently there was an amendment to the Alabama Constitution (Amendment No. 132 – if you’re at all familiar with the extreme Frankensteinism of the Alabama Constitution, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg) that voters approved (by a 2-1 margin) to authorize the state legislature to look into abolishing or dissolving the
county. This remained in the Constitution until Amendment 406 repealed it. The Macon County Courthouse is also the only courthouse in Alabama that has gargoyles on the four corners of the clocktower.