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Paddling the Black Belt

Travel down Alabama’s Scenic River Trail this month. 
by Kayla Smith

October in the South means warm days and cool nights – weather that begs you to spend evenings around the campfire and nights under the stars. Later this month, you’ll have your chance. The Alabama Scenic River Trail is hosting a weeklong paddle on the Alabama River October 13-20 through the state’s historic Black Belt counties.

“Seasoned veterans and near-first-timers can participate,” says Jim Felder, director of the Alabama Scenic River Trail. Paddlers from Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida and even Wisconsin have already signed up. Participants can bring their own canoes or kayaks, and a few will be provided for those who can’t transport or don’t have their own.

Alabama’s trail is the longest in any single state and the only one that includes everything from mountain streams to river delta and the salty waves of the Gulf of Mexico. The Alabama, Coosa, Tensaw, Tennessee, Cahaba and other Alabama rivers comprise the main waterways of the trail, which stretches for 631 miles. Opened in 2008, the trail passes through many historic points of interest, established birding trails and some of the country’s best fishing grounds.

Paddle the Black Belt begins Saturday, October 13, in Selma, with participants first gathering at Selma’s Riverfront Market Day on Water Street, right next to the river, before beginning their journey. For the rest of the week, paddlers will travel between 8 and 15 miles each day, stopping at towns along the way, including the famous quilting hideaway of Gee’s Bend, to taste local cuisine, visit historical sites and browse local art. Nights will be spent camping in tents at sites with clean water and hot showers. Participants can either make their own meals or pay an additional fee for the Food Track, which includes all meals cooked and catered on site. The paddle ends on the 20th at Millers Ferry with a fish fry and live music.

Felder, who’s paddled the river several times, recalls some of his favorite memories: Sunset at Claiborne Dam, stars overhead at Prairie Creek Campground and paddling through American lotus in bloom. All postcard- worthy images.

If you’re interested in a week of  exploring Alabama’s waterways, storytelling, music and new friendships, sign up on the Alabama Scenic River Trail website. Deadline is October 11.

The trip costs $195 for American Canoe Association members, plus an additional $5 for nonmembers. It’s $95 for children under 14, and Alabama Scenic River Trail members save $15. The optional Food Track is $200. If you sign up three of your friends, you can participate for free, and if you wish to join the group on the river for a day, you only need to pay a $5 insurance fee.  

Kayla Smith is a new intern with Deep South. Find out more about her on our “Contributors” page. 

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