Sometimes, you just want to get out and stretch your legs a bit, but don’t have time to do a long hike or go very far away. Luckily, here in Madison County you won’t have to look very far to find a nearby option. The cities of Huntsville and Madison both have city plans that include an ambitious network of greenways. While those plans are not yet completely realized, there are a good number of greenways currently built in all parts of the metro area: Aldridge Creek, Little Cove, Big Cove, Flint River, and Tennessee River Greenways in southeast Huntsville, Gateway Greenway off Pratt near downtown, Wade Mountain Greenway up north, and Indian Creek, Mill Creek, and Bradford Creek Greenways to the west. The city of Huntsville has put together a map of existing and planned greenways here: Huntsville Greenways; Madison’s map can be found here: Madison City Greenways. Greenway trails are generally paved and fairly level, accessible for walkers, bicyclists, and runners, folks pushing a stroller, and those walking their dogs. There is almost always parking nearby, sometimes in a dedicated lot. Most also are close to subdivisions or parks so they’re convenient for folks in the area.
This past week had been a busy one and by Thursday night, I just needed to get out for a walk to decompress a bit. A weekday evening hike would have to be a short one in order to finish before it got dark, so Chet and I decided to check out Bradford Creek Greenway in Madison. This greenway trail starts across from Palmer Park on Palmer Road and goes north for just about 2 miles, ending up behind Heritage Elementary School. Of course, my kids call me “180” for my tendency to make whatever choice is the absolute opposite of the one I should have made so we started our hike at the north end and went south. Heritage Elementary is easy to find, but figuring out where exactly we were supposed to go to find the greenway was a bit trickier. We parked near the track, but soon figured out we needed to be on the other end of the parking lot. 180 strikes again! The greenway trail starts at the northeast corner of the school property, so park on the north end and then walk around toward the back. It’s pretty obvious once you get close. The parking spaces right by the start of the trail seem to be reserved for school staff, though, so don’t park there!
It was a typical greenway trail — paved, with a bike lane and a walking lane marked out. There were also many dog potty stations (for lack of a better term), and signs warning of snakes and wild animals. Almost as soon as you start down the trail from this end, there is a small grassy area with 3 picnic tables and a very nice wooden bike rack. Shortly afterwards the trail goes over Bradford Creek and then curves south, following along the east side of the creek. You’ll notice Land Trust Boundary signs in the woods to the west. The Land Trust of North Alabama provided right of way over some of their preserved property in Madison to make the greenway a reality. The trail’s website says “Bradford Creek serves as the primary drainage basin as well as a flood plain area. The route along Bradford Creek provides scenic views of the creek itself, the hardwood forests along the banks, wetland areas supporting beavers, raccoons, opossum, many species of fish and birds, and a varied assortment of plants. The route allows for an experience that is removed from the noise of vehicular traffic and allows for total immersion into a natural setting, away from the trappings of urban life. Much of the land adjacent to the creek is held in conservation easements and owned by the Land Trust of North Alabama, ensuring that the area will remain unspoiled and a habitat for a diverse group of plants, fish, animals, and waterfowl. The project will not require any ground disturbing activities (other than construction of the path itself) or demolition, and by preventing development within the floodplain it will aid in drainage and flood control for West Madison.” I will say that while I did not hear a lot of vehicular traffic, the planes overhead heading for the Huntsville International Airport were pretty loud.
When I hike I am always on the look out for wildflowers. This time of year we’re past the riot of spring wildflowers, but there are still a few to be found. Left to right below are blue vervain, elderberry, and butterweed.
After close to a mile, you’ll pass “Sunshine Oaks” on the east side of the trail. Sunshine Oaks is a boarding and training facility for sport horses and when we walked by there were several out munching on grass and generally ignoring us. The owners have put up signs asking that folks don’t feed the horses. Please be respectful. Shortly after the horse fields, we passed this beautiful huge northern Red Oak tree. Chet tells me that the vines cloaking just the limbs of the tree are resurrection fern. From Wikipedia: “The resurrection fern gets its name because it can survive long periods of drought by curling up its fronds and appearing desiccated, grey-brown and dead. However, when just a little water is present, the fern will uncurl and reopen, appearing to “resurrect” and restoring itself to a vivid green color within about 24 hours. It has been estimated that these plants could last 100 years without water and still revive after a single exposure.” Soon after this tree you’ll come to Mill Road. Madison has another very short greenway called Mill Creek Greenway which is less than half a mile to the east down Mill Road from the spot where Bradford Creek Greenway crosses, but at this time there is no path, sidewalk or trail that will get you there. The city has plans to link the two, but at the moment there’s not a safe way to travel on foot from Bradford Creek to Mill Creek Greenway. Crossing over Mill Creek, we found a stretch of blackberry bushes that we plan on visiting again when they’re ripe, then had our first “wild animal” sighting of the trip – a bunny. By now the light was fading and it was hard to get a good picture though he held quite still for us for a long time. Walking on down the trail, still following the creek, we noticed that this part of the trail had quite a few benches. The stretch north of Mill Road didn’t have any that we remembered. I liked the setting for this one particularly, because I’m a sucker for giant old spreading trees. Just a little ways further down the trail, we added to our “wild animal” count when Chet found a luna moth by the side of the trail. Just before the end of the greenway, there is a bridge that crosses back over Bradford Creek. I spotted four light brown shapes out at the end of a field, and while the light and distance defeated my efforts to get any kind of picture, I’m fairly certain these were deer. They moved like deer anyway, and no farmer would have cows in a plowed field, right?
So there you have it – an easy peasy trail on the west side of Madison County. No snakes spotted, but we did see a bunny, a luna moth, four deer, a few horses, and lots of birds.