TALLADEGA, Ala. (WSFA) - On this week’s episode of Hiking with Hailey, Hailey traveled to northeast to check out the Bald Rock Boardwalk trail at Cheaha State Park.
Tucked in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Cheaha features land and water. It stretches to the Talladega National Forrest, creating a sea of green untouched for miles.
“Cheaha is two wonderful things wrapped up in one, and so much more. But the first thing, is that we are Alabama’s oldest state park, and we are also Alabama’s highest point,” said park naturalist Mandy Pearson. “So what makes this place so unique is that you have these beautiful green rolling hills, of over 300,000 acres of non-developed land.”
There are many ways to get to a look at the sweeping views, but we chose to travel along the Bald Rock Boardwalk, which was installed over 25 years ago to make sure everyone could safely enjoy the trail.
“We want to be a park for everyone, no matter what limitations or abilities that you have,” said Pearson.
As the park naturalist, Pearson enjoys sharing her knowledge of Cheaha with as many people as possible, in the hopes that more visitors will become one with nature.
“Too many people have forgotten how to get outside and just play,” Pearson said. “Whether it’s climbing a tree, walking barefoot in grass, watching the fireflies, looking for shooting stars; simple small basics that we’ve forgotten. So making those heart-to-park connections is one of the best parts of my job.”
During our hike, Pearson helped us find our own “heart-to-park connection,” by teaching us about one of her favorite trees: the sourwood. The sourwood’s leaves are known to taste like a granny smith apple, and asked us to give it a taste. When we tried it, it was pretty sour, but did taste like a granny smith apple.
(NOTE: please do not eat any of the park’s plants without staff supervision).
Pearson also described how certain plants have medicinal properties.
Of course, the greenery provides nourishment for more than just us humans; in fact, Cheaha is crawling with critters that like to chow down.
“Insects are your greatest number of living organisms. So we have more bugs and butterflies and bees than anything else on Earth,” said Pearson.
And some of the vegetation plays a vital role in keeping Cheaha's ecosystem alive.
“Lichens are an unsung hero of mountains. So they are the only thing in this area that can break down the rocks. And so the cycle goes they’ll break down the rocks and make a tiny bit of soil and then the mosses can grow, and they continue to break it down enough that your forests will continue to grow.”
But of course, nothing beats the panoramic views once you reach the end of the boardwalk. Surrounded by nearly 400,000 acres of US Forest Service National forest, visitors can see all the way to Birmingham. The highest point sits 2,407 feet above sea level, and on a clear day even catch a glimpse of Talladega Motor Speedway.
In addition to hiking, Cheaha also offers road biking, rock climbing, swimming, camping, and on-site lodging. It is also considered the gateway between the Piedmont and Highland trails, which are great for birding enthusiasts.