Conecuh National Forest is one of the best-kept secrets in Alabama. Conecuh is located in Southern Alabama, just above the Florida panhandle. Southern coastal plains, and shallow swamps and bogs create a mesmerizing backdrop for a host of outdoor adventures. The Open Pond Fire Tower, Conecuh Trail and Blue Lake Recreation Areas are some of the best places to start exploring this Alabama gem.
Conecuh is a Muskogee term meaning “land of cane”. This is fitting; the Conecuh Trail winds through several canebrakes. But there’s more than just cane. And there’s a whole lot more to the story. In fact, in the 1930s, Conecuh wasn’t really a forest.
ABOUT THE FOREST
One of the most amazing things about Conecuh is that it’s a success story of preservation, reforestation and hope. In 1936, Conecuh was designated as a National Forest. But at the time, it wasn’t exactly a forest. It was about 54,000 acres of clear-cut and burned land. The trees left standing were only there because they were too small for logging operations. Over the next 8 years, the Civilian Conservation Corps planted hundreds of thousands of trees, built fire towers and created the recreational area at Open Pond.
In 1949, the size of the forest increased to just over 83,000 acres, and remained there ever since. Today, the health of the forest is still improving. Gradual reforestation of the native Long Leaf Pine ecosystem and the reintroduction of fire (a vital part of this ecosystem) are a big part of this.
The restored Long Leaf ecosystem is valuable habitat for two threatened species—The Red-Cockaded woodpecker and the Eastern Indigo Snake. The snakes have actually been reintroduced over the last decade. 2010 marked the beginning of the Eastern Indigo Snake Reintroduction Project. Since then, over 150 snakes have been released on Conecuh. This apex predator is an vital part of the Long Leaf ecosystem.
Recreation in Conecuh National Forest
Open Pond Recreation Area includes a day-use area, trails for hiking and biking, and access for non-motorized (or electric motorized) boating and fishing. The only campground in Conecuh is also at the recreation area. This campground features tent sites, group sites, and sites with RV hookups.
No swimming is permitted at Open Pond. However, Blue Lake Recreation Area does allow swimming. It is about ten minutes from Open Pond and even features a sand beach. Blue Lake also has outdoor showers, a much smaller campground, and boating access.
The eastern portion of the forest features the 20-mile Conecuh Trail. This trail is a perfect way to experience the diversity of Conecuh’s natural world. There are 10 miles on the north loop of this trail that allow mountain biking, but the rest is reserved for hikers. The south loop of the trail will take you to Blue Springs, a large natural spring in the forest.
Open Pond Fire Tower
In the 1930s, the Civilian Corps built four fire towers in Conecuh. Only two of these remain today, and only of these remains as it was originally built. This one is Open Pond Fire Tower. This tower is basically a small cabin on a 100-foot high frame. It was originally constructed to help monitor fire danger. Today, it’s no longer needed for that, but still offers spectacular views of the forest.
Visit Conecuh National Forest
If you’ve never been to Conecuh National Forest before, now is as good a time as any to plan a trip. Take in the views from the Open Pond Fire Tower, hike the Conecuh Trail, or spend the day (or the week) at one of the campgrounds. Please be respectful, leave no trace, and enjoy yourself!