Monday, August 14, 2017

CHEAHA STATE PARK

Tower built by CCC, Cheaha State Park, AL

Fog hangs at 2400 ft. in Cheaha State Park, Delta, AL, and I awaken to the call of a crow walking around in the parking lot. Later, we breakfast in a dining hall with huge plate glass windows overlooking hues of green in the valley below that are dotted with dark lakes. Cheaha is a word variation of the Creek Indian word "chaha," which some Creeks called high places; other Creeks interpreted "cheaha" as a word meaning sleeping giant. Old rocks in the park are 500-600 years old, quartz deposits that formed a mountain that is the highest point (2700 ft) in Alabama.


From Bald Rock boardwalk,
Cheaha State Park, AL
We walked the Bald Rock Trail, a boardwalk now accessible to handicapped hikers, built through a pine-oak-hickory forest where the dominant trees are chestnut oak and Virginia pine. The area once housed ancient tribes who lived under rock shelters at the base of the mountain. At the end of the trail, we stopped at an overlook with a 150-year-old Virginia pine beside it that looked like a Japanese bonsai tree. Along the trail, beautiful forests of lime green-colored lichen shone through the fog as we passed through a burned out area where pokeweed grew abundantly. In the spring, flame azaleas and oak leaf hydrangea bloom near the board walk, and warblers form the largest species of bird life in the forest. In the fall, red tailed hawks and peregrine falcons swoop over the landscape. I hobbled along the trail with the aid of a cane, glad for the diversion that postponed a decision about fixing a knee that affected my mobility.

One of the attractions in Cheaha State Park is a small CCC museum and tower, a site that needed more work inside regarding the history of the tower, perhaps a video and instructive books to purchase. I had seen an excellent presentation of the CCC work in the Roosevelt State Park in Georgia and expected the same in Alabama. My father worked with the CCC during the early 1930s, and I don’t know why this program was ever abandoned. Projects like these might siphon off some of the anger now prevalent in young men throughout the world. Young men built wonderful highways, bridges, trails, lodges, and cabins and used their energies to make towers from the “stone of their grievances; the stone of their hope” I wrote in a poem. I think of them toiling away for $30 a month, $25 of which was sent home to help sustain families, many of the men enjoying three square meals daily for the first time in their lives and sleeping on beds they constructed themselves. From the CCC, my father went on to work with the Louisiana Highway Dept. and became a civil engineer. The CCC organization formed the springboard for many vocations for young men, and they left us a legacy of state parks, solid reminders of the Roosevelts’ vision for preserving the natural beauties of America, making them accessible to all of us.


Virginia Pine at end of Bald Rock Boardwalk,
Cheaha State Park, AL

I wish I could say the experience cured my physical disability but it did not; however, the foray into the natural world did lift my spirits. For years I’ve wanted to visit all the CCC buildings in state parks and write about them in a book entitled Stone of Hope or Ebenezer (which means stone of hope, because the CCC created so many of the parks from native rock). Perhaps my next book… 

We went into Anniston, Alabama, a short ride away, and spent two hours in the McClellan Theatre watching Smokey Joe’s Cafe, a musical by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller who were reputed to “pack more into a plot in three minutes than William Faulkner in a hundred pages.” The retrospective rocked with talented performers who sang, danced, and interacted with an audience who appreciated oldies like “Loving You,” “Stand By Me,” “Yakety Yak,” “Fools Fall in Love” — 38 numbers performed by CAST (Community Actors' Studio Theater). I know this sounds like hyperbole, but the singers and dancers in this theatrical performance could rival any Broadway shows I’ve seen. I wasn’t too surprised at the excellence of the musical as I knew the famous Alabama Shakespeare Festival had been founded in Anniston before it was moved to Montgomery, Alabama. Anniston has always staged first class theatre, and CAST also features free performances for children in this southern city.

Back at Cheaha, I learned that hearty hikers can begin the Pinhoti Trail, the southern connection in the Appalachian Trail that extends from Alabama to Maine, 2504 miles of hiking that would take a real stepper about seven months to complete — a challenge that this hobbler will never take up!

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan

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