Hiking with Hailey: Wetumpka Impact Crater

Hiking with Hailey: Wetumpka Impact Crater
The Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission has placed informational signs at each of the important points of the crater to help visitors learn more about the crater and how it has affected the city. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

WETUMPKA, Ala. (WSFA) - When you come to Wetumpka, you think of the Wind Creek Casino and the resort, but did you know Wetumpka is the site of one of the greatest natural disasters in Alabama history?

We met up with Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission Chairman Marilee Tankersely and headed out to the Wetumpka Impact Crater on this week’s episode of Hiking with Hailey.

“The crater, to me, is like Alabama’s Disney Land, and it could be, because people come here from all over the world to see it,” said Tankersley. “This is the best preserved marine impact crater in the world. Now most of us don’t know what that means, but the fact is, when the meteor hit, this was ocean. So, it had to go through about 100 feet of water when it hit, and still made rims that, at the time were about twice the size as they are now.”

Variations of rock formations and soil can be seen at different points of the Wetumpka Impact Crater.
Variations of rock formations and soil can be seen at different points of the Wetumpka Impact Crater. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t a crater is just an empty hole in the ground?

“Yes. People think of a small, little hole in the ground,” said Tankersley. “But, ours is over five miles wide and about 1,000 people live in it. It’s just very, very interesting for people to see, oh I’m standing on crater rim right now. When you’re in downtown Wetumpka, you are in crater rim all the way.”

So, that means just about every place you stop in Wetumpka, you’re standing in a crater the size of Jordan-Hare or Bryant Denny Stadium, created 85 millions years ago!

First discovered by geologist Eugene Allen Smith in 1891, Auburn professor of Geology Dr. David King has continued to uncover the history of this “structurally disturbed” land.

Thankfully, the Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission has made it easy for you to learn all about this prehistoric perforation, by placing informational signs at some of the most important places of impact.

The Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission has placed informational signs at each of the important points of the crater to help visitors learn more about the crater and how it has affected the city.
The Wetumpka Impact Crater Commission has placed informational signs at each of the important points of the crater to help visitors learn more about the crater and how it has affected the city. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

But, each of those signs is spread out across the city. So, Tankersley encourages visitors to grab a map, hop in your car and spend the day on a scavenger hunt.

“The Chamber of Commerce and the city have maps that will allow people to go around and see this,” said Tankersley. “There are roads to all of our signs, but we’re not able to accommodate large groups at this time. So we ask that people come in their individual vehicles and park.”

Each site reveals new information about the crater, and how it has impacted Wetumpka.

You can head to the highest point of the crater at Bald Knob.

“It is over 600 feet above sea level, and when you’re up here, you can actually look over to the other side of our crater, which is about 3.5 miles to the rim,” said Tankersley.

Or see some pieces of the crater that were ejected into the Coosa River during the collision.

Rocks that were ejected from the meteor during impact were flung into the Coosa River.
Rocks that were ejected from the meteor during impact were flung into the Coosa River. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

“Most natural anomalies that we have here [in Wetumpka] are part of that crater,” said Tankersley. “For example, the rocks in the river. These rocks have been here from the beginning, but they were part of the lower part of the rim. Again, it was ocean floor, so you don’t think about these kinds of rocks being in the ocean.”

Without the crater, there would be no Wetumpka.

So, when you’re enjoying a game at the brand new sports complex, or looking to settle down and buy a home, always remember, you’re standing on prehistoric lands.

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