“Now we’re at the fun part,” said Mike Dalen, as he pulled aside some privet branches and plunged into the trackless woods. Mike, as you may know, is the chair of the Board of Directors for the Land Trust of North Alabama, and he was leading a members only ramble on a recently-acquired tract on Chapman Mountain, on the northeast side of Huntsville.
The trackless woods are 370 acres purchased to preserve a large piece of the north side of Chapman Mountain, right around the place were I-565 transitions back into U.S. Highway 72. They won’t always be trackless woods, though — the Land Trust has big plans to develop this tract to include hiking, biking, and horse trails, along with possibly even some group campsites. As is always the case, plans are contingent on funding and volunteer and staff availability, but our little 2.25 mile hike over a part of the property gave us a glimpse of its potential.
One of the benefits of being a Land Trust member is that you get invited to members only events. The best of these are the free guided hikes to properties not yet open to the public. We’ve been on three of these, to the Matthews Preserve in Limestone County, Bethel Spring Preserve in the Paint Rock valley, and now Chapman Mountain. As trail care volunteers we’ve also had a glimpse of other properties, such as Bloucher Ford Preserve and a small but enticing property in north Madison County. It’s like getting a peek into Santa’s bag.
Ruth and I have met most of the Land Trust employees and have worked with several board members on event preparation/teardown and trail maintenance projects. For the folks on the board it’s a labor of love, as they aren’t paid for their efforts. For the employees, it has to be some kind of calling, as non-profit organizations aren’t generally known for their munificent salaries and benefits. It might surprise you to learn that the Land Trust protects around 6,000 acres in five north Alabama counties, and there are only two full-time employees who maintain this property. Fortunately, there are many volunteers who step up for projects big and small, such as the recent revamp of the Spragins Hollow trailhead of the Wade Mountain Preserve and new trail construction to connect neighborhoods with existing trails.
Events such as the members only hikes are a reminder that before we get a chance to wield loppers and pulaskis, someone has navigated the tricky process of acquiring the property. Property can be donated, purchased from willing sellers, operated in conjunction with other partners (such as the Nature Conservancy), or made available through easements and access agreements. Land is valuable, my friends, and they’re not making more of it, and there is competition for every square inch. The folks who acquire land for the benefit of future generations have to play the long game since resources are limited. The process of getting some of these tracts can span a decade or more. Various conservation organizations may do some horse tradin’ for the common good, and private and government grants don’t just drop out of the sky — they have to be applied for, and you have to have a good plan to win. My point is that every time a parcel gets preserved, that’s a win for all of us. Mike told us about some more recent wins, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing about them later. As Land Trust members, we heard about them first!
So what about this Chapman Mountain property? We turned off Highway 72 and descended a gravel road to an area cleared of pines and privet. It was a big group — 26 of us, with youngsters and oldsters and in-betweeners. This part of the property was at one time farmed, but was taken over with pines and invasives. This area is relatively flat, and with some additional clearing could be the site of parking, pavilions, and group facilities. Plans are fluid as to what exactly will go where, so we’ll just have to see what happens.
In the email we had received to notify us of the hike, a plot of the property showed several proposed trails. Proposed is the key word, as Mike revealed that none of those trails exist as of right now, and they’re not really even marked yet. We wandered across a tiny chokepoint in a small creek, then meandered through fairly open woods until it was time to dive into the thicket, cross a creek and head uphill.
We reached another stopping point, where Mike pointed out our next leg of the hike, a scramble uphill to meet a logging road. He also pointed out evidence of hunting on the property, in the form of a tree stand.
We hoofed it up the hill, rather quickly finding the road or what was left of it, passing another tree stand on the way, until we topped the ridge for about a 250 foot elevation change. Even with most of the leaves down, views were still pretty obscured here. But no doubt a good vantage point can be found.
We wound southward along the ridgetop, and turned around at our third tree stand of the day. This one had a game camera, so we all posed for the poacher, then backtracked a bit and headed downhill to the east until we came to a chain link fence. We followed the fence to the northeast, then bushwhacked our way toward Highway 72 and followed Chase Creek back toward the parking area. This stretch was relatively flat and somewhat better marked, and it crossed an old stone wall.
We had covered around half of the property, enough to get some appreciation for its charms. I suspect a spring visit would reveal additional charms, though I did spot some wintergreen and nandina, as well as a bush honeysuckle in bloom (in December!).
This was a loosely structured hike, so I guess this has been a loosely structured post. The title for this post is a reference to an Ian Dury song, “You’ll See Glimpses.” Although the song is a wonderfully wry send-up of political platitudes, the last lines resonate:
Before I stop, here’s a last glimpse into the general future.
Home rule will exist in each home, forever.
Every living thing will be another friend.
This wonderful state of affairs will last for always.