Discovering winter gems

Five free Ranger-led hikes are set to take place every Saturday in February through various trails at Little River Canyon National Preserve.

The Little River Canyon National Preserve is set to offer free Saturday Ranger-led hikes commencing on February 1.

National Park Service Interpretive Ranger and Public Information Officer Matt Switzer said he stepped into his role after the retirement of Larry Beane, who left in October of 2018 after serving for 27 years.

“Settling into this new role, I wanted to get a feel of what the seasons are like here in Alabama,” he said.

Switzer is a native of Northern California. He said during his time in Alabama, he quickly learned summer is not necessarily the season for hiking.

Switzer said now that we are heading into spring, he wanted to start offering the public different trails and times deciding to use the Saturdays in February to “test the waters.”

“Hopefully, this is something we can continue as long as there is a public interest,” he said.

The Rangers will offer five hikes with a variety of trails, topics, trail lengths and difficulties.

“Right now, we have a staff of four Interpretive [Rangers] and we are rotating through who’s doing the hikes,” said Switzer.

He said if an individual participates in all five hikes, they would meet all 4 of the Interpretive Rangers and would also take part in a different program each time.

Switzer said Little River Canyon has so much to offer, and they want to provide a wide variety of trails to reach as many potential participants as possible.

Participants are encouraged to bring water, dress weather appropriate and wear sturdy, close-toed shoes.

The program will be weather-dependent, and reservations are not required.

The first of these hikes kick off this Saturday and is a one-hour long 1.5-mile moderate hike.

Participants are to meet at Beaver Pond Trail parking lot on Highway 176, and the hike begins at 10 a.m.

In the February hikes, they are going to be talking about plants and wildlife in the winter in the area in conjunction with various other topics.

Switzer said the hikes would feature different lengths and times to cater to all audiences and groups.

The schedule of the hikes is as follows:

Feb 8 – 2:00 p.m.

• Beaver Pond Trail: 1.5-mile moderate hike – 2 hours

– What’s a National Preserve? How does it differ from a National Park or National Monument? What’s the difference between wilderness and Wilderness? Find out the answers while enjoying the beautiful Beaver Pond Trail

– meet at Beaver Pond Trail parking lot on Highway 176/Little River Canyon Rim Parkway.

Feb 15 – 10:00 a.m.

• Road 1 – 4-mile moderate hike – 2+ hours

– Yellowhammers, Indian Hens, and ghosts of the woods – discover some of the winter wildlife of Little River Canyon and how their stories tie into the culture and traditions of the area

– meet at the Hunter Check Station on Cherokee County Road 103.

Feb 22 – 2:00 p.m.

• Path to Learning - .5 mile easy hike – 30-45 minutes

– Coexistence between people and nature - delve into the importance of wildlife and responsible stewardship of our public lands and beyond

– meet at Little River Canyon Center information desk.

Feb 29 – 10:00 a.m.

• Eberhart Trail – 1.5-mile strenuous hike – 1.5 hours

– Descend below the canyon rim and learn about the rich history of Little River Canyon – meet at Eberhart Point parking lot on Highway 176//Little River Canyon Rim Parkway.

Switzer said his family is “loving” Alabama so far, and it has been fascinating experiencing the different seasons.

“As an Interpreter [Ranger], I am definitely excited to share the canyon with the public and those who have never been here before and [also] those who have been here a thousand times. There is always something new to find,” he said.

For additional information and to check on weather-related hikes, contact the Interpretation Office at 256-845-9605 or check their Facebook @lirinps.

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