Cheaha State Park
Closest town: Double Springs. From Double Springs, go north on Route 195 for 9.4 miles. You will see a sign for the Sipsey River Picnic Grounds; make a right there (my map indicates that this is Route 60, but it was not marked as such). Continue straight on this road; do not make the next right toward the picnic area. After about three miles, the road changes from hard surface to gravel; keep going. After another three miles or so, you will pass a church and shortly after that the road will “T.” Make a right at the T onto Forest Service Road 203. Make the first right off of FS 203, following the signs to Thompson Creek trailhead. In about four miles, you will cross a narrow wooden bridge and the road ends. This is where trail 206 begins.
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To get to the Tree, take trail 206 to trail 209 to East Bee Branch. The Sipsey Wilderness Hiking Club has a very helpful website with trail maps at www.sipseywilderness.org.
Ah. Sipsey. I would like every forester to see Sipsey Wilderness. Many foresters I talk to seem to think that without their management the forests would be unhealthy full of weedy species, insects, and dying trees. But here, where the forest is unmanaged, there are big, beautiful trees of all kinds: pine, beech, sweet gum, hemlock, hickory, oak, and tulip poplar. This forest is not shaped by any human plan, and yet it is vibrant, healthy, alive. This is the real thing, the true old growth, the original forest for all to see.
I am not alone in my admiration of Alabama’s old growth. An early natural history explorer of this region, Phillip Henry Gosse, described the forest he found here in 1838:
There is an inexpressible grandeur in these primeval forests. Many of the trees are of immense magnitude, and their trunks rise like pillars from the soft and damp soil, shooting upward in columnal magesty [sic]…. The number of young saplings that at first sprang up together prevented the throwing forth of side-shoots; each struggled upward toward the light of heaven, each striving for mastery over its fellows, for the possession of space and the light which could be obtained right upward.
To this end all the vegetative energy was directed; the sap was not wasted in lateral buds, or if such peeped forth, they withered for lack of light. But as all were engaged in the same struggle, the desired object still removed as the summits of the aspiring trees pushed upward; till the weaker, being left behind, died out one by one, and the mighty winners of the race at length found themselves comparatively few in number, and divided by vacant spaces sufficiently wide to allow the expansion of lateral branches, and the formation of verdant crowns of interwoven foliage.
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