About once a year, we invite a guest blogger to chime in on a favorite hike or outdoor adventure. Our entry for this week is courtesy of our four-legged friend Casey The Hound, who brings his unique canine perspective and seemingly inexhaustible bladder to every hike. Well, every hike that we bring him on, anyway. (It’s a sore point with him — don’t bring it up!)
Hello, dear readers, it is I, Casey The Hound. As much as I like sleeping on the porch, I’m always up for an adventure, and when I saw the human members of the pack strapping on their boots, I knew it was time to put on the puppy eyes and to gently remind them it has been a while since I’ve been Outside the Fence. And every now and then, it works!
I could tell something was different about this trip, though. Usually I just get clipped onto the leash and away we go, but today I was fitted with a harness I had never smelled before. I used to have a harness we’d use for hiking, but I’ve become a bit of a round hound and it won’t buckle anymore. This new harness had a looser fit, and it didn’t have a place to connect a leash. Instead, it had a couple of places to connect a camera! Not only was I going on a walkabout, I was going to make my debut as a vid-e-dog-ruff-fur. I think that’s what they called it.
Our hike was to a location that’s not terribly well-known, except to maybe a few humans. We drove from Madison about 45 minutes out to Elkton, Alabama, to a Tennessee Valley Authority property called Marbut Bend. TVA has all these little pockets of property scattered around the area, and this particular one is a short, easy, ADA-compliant walk of 1.2 miles around a field, down to the Elk River, and over a flooded field on a boardwalk. It’s a bit out in the sticks, so TVA provides these directions.
By the time we got there, I was ready to stretch my legs. A brown sign marks the entrance to the gravel parking lot, which can accommodate at least eight cars. There was one vehicle there ahead of us, and I caught a whiff of a lady and a dog about 300 yards away from us. While the humans fiddled around with cameras and backpacks, I gave the parking lot a thorough sniff and, ahem, took care of some business under this Carolina thistle. If humans need to take care of any business, they’d better do it back in town — there aren’t any facilities. Also, note to self — be very careful about doing any kind of business around thistles. It might have been a better idea to target the cutleaf evening primroses blooming along the guard rail, but they were very pretty.
The view from the parking lot is quite enticing. On the other side of the guard rail, looking to the south, there was a large patch of yellow wood sorrel in a lush grassy meadow. Since this is a loop trail, you can either turn east or west to start, and my methodical pack decided to hike clockwise. The trail to the east starts at a yellow gate, and heads east paralleling Buck Island Drive. It’s a flat gravel surface, well-maintained, suitable for strollers or wheelchairs. This is only a hiking trail, so no bikes or horses are allowed.
After about 500 feet (human feet, that is), the trail turns south. The big grassy field is to the right, and a thin strip of woods is to the left. The air was sweet with scents of honeysuckle and privet, with small oaks and sycamores shading the edge of the path. About 450 feet after the turn to the south, a small footpath leads through a gap in the trees to a view of a cove. This footpath is a natural dirt surface, which felt good on my paws, but could be rough going for a human on wheels.
We returned to the gravel trail, and soon passed a study-looking bench on the left. I didn’t really need a break, but the rest of the pack stopped to look around and take a photo of a Venus’ looking glass. Afterwards, it was back on the trail, which curved right and crossed the field. It’s a nice field. You can have a picnic on it. You can even camp on it, as long as you’re tidy and don’t stay more than 14 days. You should take your dog there, and maybe bring a frisbee. I’m too nearsighted to catch a frisbee. You don’t want to know how many dog treats have bounced off my snout, much to the pack’s amusement. The only thing this old dog catches is rays, on the back porch.
The trail turns south again, with a line of trees to your right, then splits. When the trail was originally opened in 2014, the only choice was to turn right, cross through the thin line of trees, and head south again for a brief look at the river. However, a new option was added in 2016, when a pier was added to give a much better look at the river and its wildlife. So now, when you come to the split, continue straight instead of turning right. After passing through a small patch of woods, the pier stretches straight ahead of you. It’s glorious — you can walk out and get a great view of the Elk River. There are a couple of benches, and it’s a great place to look at wildlife and do some fishing. It’s roughly the halfway point of the hike.
After enjoying a brief rest and getting a good lungful of river air, we walked back down to the pier and turned left to rejoin the trail, which curves gently to the northwest around another grassy field. The humans looked at the hispid buttercups and butterweed growing at the edge of the woods. I decided to go in for a closer look.
About .2 miles after leaving the pier, the trail makes a sharp left through another stand of trees, and begins, in this dog’s opinion, the coolest part of the hike. The next 900 feet or so is an elevated boardwalk over a flooded wetland. It stretches straight across an expanse of murky green water, full of aquatic plants and dead trees. This area was originally part of the field, but beavers dug channels from the river and flooded this section. Now it’s a wetlands teeming with wildlife — fish, raccoons, deer, beavers, and especially birds, such as great blue herons, wood ducks, barred owls, and red-shouldered hawks. There’s a bench about halfway across where you can sit and take it all in. Let me tell you, you can smell for miles here!
At the end of the boardwalk, the trail turns east and continues on solid ground skirting the wetlands. This part of the field is still a bit boggy, and has a good stand of cattails and a few oddly-disguised poles. Anybody know what’s going on here? The tops didn’t seem to have nesting platforms on them, but they are obviously fake. This last little bit of bogland seemed popular with the avian set, as we heard ducks and saw one red-winged blackbird.
After one last short boardwalk, we arrived back at the parking lot, turning east and paralleling the gravel road (behind a guard rail) to complete the loop. The hike is a super easy one — it’s relatively short, flat, and with a good gravel or wooden footbed throughout. It has varied points of interest — fields, river, and bogland — and is a great place to spot wildlife. It’s suitable for all ages, though you might want to keep a close watch on toddlers on the boardwalk since there are no guardrails there.
It was a good hike for an old dog, and I think young dogs would enjoy it too. Marbut Bend has something for everyone. Except maybe for cats. But really, who knows what they are thinking? I’m back on the porch now, digesting the post-hike celebratory pig’s ear, and thinking it over. It might look like I’m sleeping in the sun, but don’t be fooled.