|Photo courtesy of Jonathan Cole|
As we begin to enter the dog days of summer, I am reminded that one of the best ways to cool off in the Alabama summer heat is by spending a day on the water.
Alabama has an enormous variety of opportunities for aquatic recreation, though I must admit that paddling along our rivers and streams has become my favorite. Paddling (canoeing or kayaking) is a great way to relax on a scenic river and get a little exercise at the same time.
Over 631 miles of river and stream within our state have been officially designated as part of the Alabama Scenic River Trail system. The array of geography, history, and wildlife that one can encounter along this trail system is quite stunning, including towering hemlocks and sandstone bluffs along Bear Creek, hundreds of sunbathing turtles on Terrapin Creek, the challenging rapids of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, remnants of American Indian stone fishing weirs on the Tallapoosa River, as well as the chance of an encounter with alligators or even a black bear in the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta.
The library has several books that are great sources of information on Alabama's navigable rivers and streams. These can help you plan a day trip or even an extended float trip and can advise you on the equipment (and skill-level) that is best suited for particular sections of "blueway" around the state.
These books include:
Alabama Canoe Rides and Float Trips by John H. Foshee
Paddling Alabama by Joe Cuhaj and Curt Burdick
Paddling the Tennessee River by Kim Trevathan
We also have issues of the Birmingham Canoe Club's newsletter, Afloat, that are available in the Southern History Department dating back to 1987. This is likely the best resource you can find in the printed format, it will have the most frequently updated information of any Alabama paddling resource.
If you are an exceptionally thorough planner, you could even research some of the many volumes of reports by the (no longer in existence) Bureau of Light-Houses to find details on many of the navigable waterways around the state. (Those are housed in the special collections of the Government Documents Department.)
A great resource for Alabama paddlers is the Alabama Scenic River Trail website - there you can find a list of outfitters around the state where canoes and kayaks are available for rental and purchase. Although outfitters such as Terrapin Outdoor Center, Big Wills Outfitters, and Coosa Outdoor Center are situated on some very nice runs, Five Mile Creek Canoe & Co. has access to miles of tranquil blueway that can be reached within twenty minutes of downtown Birmingham.
Also, for those interested in learning how to canoe or kayak, the Birmingham Canoe Club offers classes for beginners as well as advanced paddlers. UAB Outdoor Pursuits also offers classes (as well as low-cost trips) and even has rental equipment at a very good rate if you are interested in setting up your own paddling trip.