The Roy B. Whitaker Preserve, once an open cattle pasture is actively being restored to a floodplain forest grassland vital to the declining habitats in the Tennessee Valley. The preserve is a popular stop on the North Alabama Birding Trail and home to a wide array of birds, deer, snakes and even a coyote. Located 6 miles from Gurley, Alabama, the area offers four trails. The Paint Rock Bottoms trail is one of the longest at two miles. The trail begins at the gate on the south side of the gravel parking lot. The trail, for the most part, is a six foot wide grass and dirt path that transverses the prairie landscape. Something to keep in mind is that a large portion of the trail is in a “boggy” region, which is very muddy. Waterproof boots and old tennis shoes are a must. If you’re daring bare feet could work too. You’ll definitely want to take your shoes them off before getting back in your car unless you enjoy clearing your floor mats. The grass on the trails can be very tall during the summer, so you may choose to wear long pants as well. The landscape is also prime habitat for snakes so keeping your eyes on the ground will keep you safe.
Starting from the parking lot, visitors make their way parallel to the railroad track before turning east at the beginning of the Paint Rock Bottoms trail. The path leads through the grass prairie past the pavilion and into the thicker treed area adjacent to the open field. The trail continues through the woods, turning left and passing over Cole Spring Branch on a footbridge and onto a narrower section of trail. Emerging into a marsh the path widens. It follows the perimeter of the marsh past several swampy areas and following streams. This is the part of the trail that is muddy. Bring plenty of water as the trail has little tree cover and trekking through boggy ground in the summer sun can be more strenuous than anticipated. Bird watchers will love sounds emanating from the trees and grasses. As the trail finishes circling the marsh, it turns into the edge of the tree line before returning to where it started. From there, turn right (or west) to continue along the trail you entered and return to the parking lot.
While at the park be sure to visit the birding pavilion to learn more about the native bird species and watch them during warmer months in the open field. Overall the trail is an easy walk. There is little tree cover which makes for a hot walk during the warmer months. Keep your eyes open for snakes and enjoy the scenery of the marsh.
For more information and trail maps visit the North Alabama Land Trust website – www.landtrustnal.org/trailmaps