Return to Alum Hollow

Back in April 2016, we published a post about a new property on Green Mountain in Huntsville donated to the Land Trust of North Alabama by the Kuehlthau family.  We had joined a members-only hike to check out the in-progress trail down to the waterfalls and Alum Cave, and noted in our post that we didn’t have enough time to explore the property and we would have to come back.  You can mark that as a promise kept, as we returned just a little over a year later with Casey The Hound to see how this property was faring.

And the answer to our question was:  very well, thank you!  At the time that we visited, only two weeks after the Land Trust had been given access to the property, the only parking was in the grass on the side of Shawdee Road.  The trail had a decent footbed, but was marked with ribbons, and had a creek crossing on an improvised bridge of three narrow trees lashed together.

A year later, the Green Mountain Nature Preserve, as it is now known, is thriving and developing.  The first and most obvious change is that there is now a sign marking the preserve and a gravel driveway leading from the road back to a parking lot that can accommodate around 10 vehicles (with some room for overflow, which was a good thing because the parking lot was full on our Saturday morning visit).

The trailhead now has a kiosk with a trail map and other information, and just beyond it is an interpretive sign describing the historical significance of Alum Cave.  The trail, now marked with Alum Hollow Trail diamonds, stretches out into the woods beyond the parking lot.

The Alum Hollow trail is much as we remembered it — a largely flat, slightly meandering path through open mixed woodlands.  We had only been on it for a short while before we came to another sign of progress — a new trail heading off to the left.  The new trail isn’t open yet, so we honored the request on the sign and left this trail for another day.

Although on our previous visit we didn’t think the Alum Hollow trail had much in the way of flowering plants, this hike timed out better with the flowering seasons for sparkleberry and St. Johnswort.  Sparkleberry was particularly prominent, with its peely/flaky bark.  St. Johnswort was just about to start blooming.  We caught one solitary blossom already open.

At about .3 miles, we came to the junction with the first of two new trails in the preserve, the East Plateau trail.  Though a new directional sign is clearly on the way, it’s easy to make out the pathway heading off to the right, and the established footbed and trail diamonds make it pretty clear that you’re on an official trail.    This route is a pleasant alternative to taking the Alum Hollow trail, as it meanders to the north and crosses a small seep before turning west to roughly parallel Alum Hollow.  It was on this stretch, as we began our turn to the west, that we had our one notable wildlife encounter, with an Eastern American toad.  This was along a damp section of the trail, though the footbed was well drained, and another boggy area after the turn to the west is bridged with cinder block stepping stones.

First stream crossing on Alum Hollow trail

The East Plateau is a mostly level, well-graded trail, slightly narrower that Alum Hollow, but overall we’d rate it as an easy-peasy.  Our GPS track is a little suspect for the East Plateau trail, but I’d say it’s around .5 miles, which makes it slightly longer than sticking to the main Alum Hollow trail.  I actually prefer East Plateau because it’s less traveled, and just as level and scenic as Alum Hollow.  However, taking the East Plateau route bypasses a very pretty stream crossing, as the two seeps on East Plateau join to make a narrow creek that runs south, where it is crossed by the Alum Hollow trail.

After around .5 miles, East Plateau rejoins the Alum Hollow trail, which then descends and crosses a larger creek on a new wooden bridge.  This is a big improvement over the old lashed-together bridge, though the Land Trust has impishly left the old bridge in place in case you want more of an adventure in your crossing.

After crossing the creek, we climbed out of a small hollow and about 100 feet later we came to the second newly-developed trail, the West Plateau trail.  Like it’s counterpart to the east, West Plateau winds through a mixed hardwood/pines forest, mostly level though there are a few short climbs.  West Plateau has a rockier footbed that East Plateau, and it has a couple of points of interest along it’s roughly .4 mile route.  The first is a crossing of what looks like a former dirt road running north/south.  The trail is easily spotted directly across the road, so it’s not difficult to navigate.  The other point of interest is what looks like another possible trail in the making, marked by green ribbons on a persimmon tree.  We didn’t go bushwhacking, but it looks like there might be room to route another trail into the northwest and far western edge of the tract.

The West Plateau trail merges back onto the Alum Hollow trail just as it descends somewhat steeply into another hollow.  The trail forks at this point, with the downhill fork leading to a waterfall, and the level fork continuing to the southeast to reach Alum Cave.  We went to the waterfall first and enjoyed the sight and sound of tumbling water.  Though it’s not marked on the official trail map, you can continue past the waterfall and along a narrow, wet path to reach a second, smaller waterfall with a tiny waterflow.

We retraced our steps and climbed halfway up the hollow, turning to the right to pass under the impressive rockhouses of Alum Cave.  It would be a nice place to take shelter — deep enough to stay out of the rain, sun, and wind, but with the sound of the nearby waterfall and a peaceful view over Alum Cave Hollow.

After a short rest, we returned back to the trailhead, except this time we stuck to the Alum Hollow trail for its entire length.  Casey surprised us on our return creek crossing, as he eschewed the nice new bridge to instead take the rickety narrow lashed bridge.

Although on our previous trip last year we didn’t see many wildflowers, they were in better supply for us on this trip.  East Plateau had several clumps of Two-Flowered Cynthia, and we spotted a few Quaker ladies along Alum Hollow between the East and West Plateau trails.  West Plateau had a few large bluets in bloom.  As usual, most of the flowering activity was near the creeks, as a mock orange was in bloom above the main waterfall and Virginia dayflower was in bloom near Alum Cave.  On the trip back to the parking lot, we also saw some downy serviceberry, smooth creeping bush clover,  Southern ragwort, yellow star grass, and whorled loosestrife (just beginning to bloom).  Hey, that’s ten, plus the sparkleberry and St. Johnswort mentioned earlier  — I’m claiming retroactive ice cream!

The final tally on our hike was 2.2 miles, though I’m a little doubtful about our GPS track on East Plateau — we had some signal dropouts so some of the track is shown as a lot straighter than is actually the case.  I think it’s safe to say that taking the East and West Plateau trails don’t add any significant distance to a hike down to the cave and waterfalls, so they’re worth the detour.  Both trails also have benches on them, as does Alum Hollow, which is yet another improvement made in year since our last visit.

The Green Mountain Nature Preserve is a great example of the progress made possible by generous benefactors, ambitious and visionary Land Trust staff, and dedicated volunteers.  It’s no surprise that this property has become so popular, and as the Ditto Landing to Monte Sano trail system edges closer to reality, this preserve will be a key piece in this hiking corridor.

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