If I have a ‘bucket list’ – and some days, I feel one is definitely in order – I’m not sure if completing the AT would be on it. When I lived not far from the Appalachian Trail, I did a few hikes on it and romanticized the notion of doing the whole Maine to Georgia passage at one point. I suspect that after a few days, I would be in search of a hot shower, a hot tub and a cold drink, and that would be the end of that. In college, I camped on the trail one spring break and met several ATers. Definitely a different breed, although to be fair, who isn’t?
So when I found myself at the southern terminus of the Appalachian Mountains last Sunday, I had some flashbacks to those days. Not quite senior moments, even though my birthday came and went this week and I’m closer to being old, but flashbacks nonetheless.
Of course the mountain range starts in McCalla, a small town just to the west of Birmingham, Alabama. Welcome to Tannehill State Park, a once-major industrial iron works center for the Southeast that is now a historical park, complete with re-created cabins, lots of crafts displays, old pieces of foundries and other iron-age relics, and of course trails winding in and around all of the above.
Over more than 1,500 acres, the trails follow what used to be roadways around the former village. Birmingham is known as the Steel City as it used to be quite the hub for that industry – and still is pretty significant – and Tannehill is sort of a natural museum to all of that. Historical footnote: The iron furnaces at Tannehill were used to produce iron that went into Confederate guns, and as with much of the south when it came to the Civil War, that chapter didn’t end well. According to the history books, a Union Army unit – from Iowa, of all places – was tasked with destroying manufacturing sites across the south. They did their job and leveled the Tannehill foundry in 1865. Thus went the war too.
This part of the country is an interesting place. In addition to the fervent passion for college football and really good barbeque is a strong interest in memories of the Civil War. So, Confederate relics abound, whether in old neighborhoods, highway road signs, or state parks with a past.
Our hike consisted of a low-impact loop in and around some of the older, restored buildings and the ruins. Not my usual umpteen-mile grueling trek up some mountain, but my partner was a 7-year-old who had to be bribed with the promise of a fruit smoothie to partake on the hike in the first place. “Seeing nature” is how my hiking companion described this hike, which was apt. Fall foliage is just starting in the Southeastern US, and there were enough hints of new colors to experience a nice visual among the trees.