Hiking with Hailey: Exploring the CRATA trail system
JACKSON’S GAP, Ala. (WSFA) - Last week, we took you to Smith Mountain and showed you the beautiful views of Lake Martin from the fire tower, but did you know it’s actually a part of a bigger trail system? This week we’re learning more about the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail System.
“We are a non-profit 501-C3, and we started in 2004,” said Jimmy Lanier, founder and designer of CRATA. “We have three mail trails for a total of 7.2 miles. We have the Cherokee Ridge Alpine Trail, which is a four-mile loop trail. To the north of that is the Chimney Rock loop trail, and then to the west is the 1.2 mile Kowaliga Bay trail.”
But what is it about CRATA that makes it so unique? Jimmy told us it’s pretty obvious.
“Really, Lake Martin," he said. "You can just put it all to Lake Martin, because Lake Martin is a beautiful, beautiful lake, and we have the prettiest parts of the lake, which is the high ridges.”
Those high ridges are all located on land that belongs to the Alabama Power Company, which has been instrumental in finding ways to preserve Alabama’s diverse ecosystems.
But, Jimmy’s connection to the energy company is deeper than providing beautiful trails for it’s visitors.
“Alabama Power Company means a lot to me; my grandfather worked on the dam," said Lanier. “He was plowing a mule over close to Eclectic, and he came in one day and told my grandmother, ‘Jewel, I’m going to walk over to Martin Dam and get a job. I’ll be back sometime.’”
And just as his grandfather was one of the building blocks of the lake, Jimmy has left a mark of his own. As one of the founding members of CRATA, Jimmy helped turn the rugged mountainside into miles of hikeable ground, and seeing the system of trails come together is more than he could have ever imagined.
“Oh, I never dreamed that it would happen like this. When we first started this, it was just four of us old men wanting to train to hike on the Appalachian trail, but then when we started, it became more important," said Lanier. "We all put in $15 a piece, and now, we have over 26 miles of trails, we own Smith Mountain, and we just have some of what we think are the top trails in the state.”
“Thousands of people are coming, especially since the COVID hit, this parking lot will be full and cars will be parked up and down the road, so it just gives me great satisfaction to see people out on something we started some 16-17 years ago.”
And it’s all because Jimmy chose to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather.
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