Hiking with Hailey: Bankhead National Forest

Hiking with Hailey: Bankhead National Forest

DOUBLE SPRINGS, Ala. (WSFA) - This week on Hiking with Hailey, we traveled to the Bankhead National forest.

“We have 181,000 acres here, so there is a lot of biodiversity in the Bankhead,” said Kim Waites, who works with the forest through “Wild South.” “We also are lucky enough to have a 26,000 acre wilderness area, which is federally designated under the Wilderness Act of 1964. And, we also have 61 miles of wild and scenic river.”

Bankhead National Forest is home to many different plants, such as the oak-leaf hydrangea, which is Alabama’s state wildflower.
Bankhead National Forest is home to many different plants, such as the oak-leaf hydrangea, which is Alabama’s state wildflower. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

For our trip, we decided to stay in the north-central region of the forest. Our first stop: Brushy Lake Recreational Area.

“Brushy Lake was built in the early part of the 20th century by the Civilian Conservation Core,” said Waites. “Traditionally it was a place where people would bring their families to swim. But, what has happened over the years is that it has transitioned into more of a wetland area. The landscape has changed a bit since they’ve damned the lake, so it’s created this wonderful habitat that supports a lot of biodiversity here.”

It’s a perfect place to drop the kayaks or grab the binoculars and watch some of the birds in their natural habitat. But Waits added visitors should avoid swimming in it. Over time, the water has become populated by leeches; so, it’s great to look at, but definitely not a place you want to take an afternoon dip.

The Brushy Lake Recreational area in Bankhead National Forest used to be a great place for families to gather and swim; however due to changes in the ecosystem, it is now populated by leeches. Officials advise visitors to stay out of the water, unless in a personal watercraft like a kayak or canoe.
The Brushy Lake Recreational area in Bankhead National Forest used to be a great place for families to gather and swim; however due to changes in the ecosystem, it is now populated by leeches. Officials advise visitors to stay out of the water, unless in a personal watercraft like a kayak or canoe. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

But even the leeches play a vital role in keeping the environment balanced.

"It's very important that we have a wide variety of species in our ecosystems because it promotes forest health, which promotes what we call ecosystem services, which has benefits to humans, like fresh air, and places to go to hike and enjoy the outdoors," said Waites. "So it's very important that we keep all of that intact."

The Brushy Lake damn in Bankhead National Forest has helped change the ecosystem, increasing the biodiversity of the forest.
The Brushy Lake damn in Bankhead National Forest has helped change the ecosystem, increasing the biodiversity of the forest. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

One the major natural characteristics at the Bankhead is the sandstone bluffs that line the lakeside. Much of what grows in the forest is dictated by the geology of the area.

"Geology is a huge factors in what makes a place special in supporting certain soil compositions that will then promote what kind of life and what kind of plants we have in certain areas. So you will actually see a contrast in what is growing because of that specific geological feature."

Sometimes referred to as the Land of a Thousand Waterfalls, Bankhead National Forest is known for its cascading flows that are hidden throughout the forest.
Sometimes referred to as the Land of a Thousand Waterfalls, Bankhead National Forest is known for its cascading flows that are hidden throughout the forest. (Source: Kim Waites)

Another huge draw to the forest is it’s many hidden waterfalls. Unfortunately, during the summer, several of those falls are dried up. However, during the fall and spring, the views can be truly breathtaking.

Waites said the falls are best viewed in the fall and spring. If you are planning a visit to the Bankhead National Forest, please check their website for up-to-date park information regarding the coronavirus.

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