The official opening of the Black Creek Trail took place last Thursday with a dedication opening at the overlook located north of Black Creek Road and near the Etowah County Rescue Squad building.
The Vagabond, who was the originator of the idea, first proposed a trail from Noccalula Falls to the Gadsden Mall back in 1980 with his Black Creek book. When Jerry Alford was City of Gadsden Parks and Recreation director in 1986, the city looked into the possibly of building this trail with the urging of the Lookout Mountain Trail Association. Unfortunately, the idea was way ahead of its time, and money was not available.
Plans for a trail along Black Creek were proposed as early as 1949, when a trail or road system from the falls area southward was first brought up under the City of Gadsden’s comprehensive plan.
In 2005, a group of movers and shakers, knowledgeable both in the outdoors and bicycling, met and decided to form a committee. The intention of the Gadsden/Etowah County Environmental Committee for Alternative Transportation, or E-Cat, was to make Gadsden and Etowah County more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly. The group prepared an official Black Creek Greenway Master Plan for the City of Gadsden.
In 2007, a committee was formed within the Gadsden-Etowah Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). It was called the Bicycle, Pedestrian & Greenways Advisory Committee, which encouraged the trail to be built.
The city of Gadsden recently was awarded two grants to build the trail. The first grant was for $100,000 for first phase of the trail at Noccalula Falls Park. A second grant of $586,560 was then obtained for the second phase of the trail, which ran from Noccalula Falls Park to Tuscaloosa Avenue near the Etowah County Rescue Squad. Plans are being made for the trail to extend through the James D. Martin Wildlife Park located behind the Gadsden Mall.
Most often, folks ask how did the creek get its name as “Black Creek.” Long before white settlers came to this area, Indians gave the name Black Creek from the black stains left on the rocks from the decaying leaves and debris. The route along Black Creek provides scenic views of the creek, hardwood forests along the banks, wetland areas supporting beavers, racoons, opossum, many species of fish and birds, and a varied assortment of plants, including some that are very rare.
The route allows for an experience that for most part is removed from the noise of vehicular traffic and allows for total immersion into a natural setting away from the trappings of urban life. Much of the land adjacent to the actual and proposed trail either is held in conservation easements and right-a-ways or owned outright by the City of Gadsden. This arrangement will ensure that the area will remain unspoiled and a habitat for a diverse group of plants, fish, animals, and waterfowl is preserved.
Additionally, this pedestrian and non-motorized corridor along Black Creek will enhance the area by providing a walking laboratory. The corridor also will benefit adults by providing a safe and scenic area for walking and biking. South of Meighan Boulevard, the trail presently exists as jeep trails or access roads.
There is an area of the trail that runs through just south of the Noccalula Falls gorge area that was once disturbed over the years. This has happened as early as the 1880’s, when the Clayton family started mining for coal along the Black Creek. Even today, you can see dozens of re-opened mines along the trail.
Another intrusion occurred when the City of Gadsden operated a dump and trash site on the east edge of the creek from the 1940s until the 1990s. In the 1950s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers performed a complete channelization from Tuscaloosa Avenue southward that straightened Black Creek.
In the early 1960s the Coosa River was dammed to create Lake Gadsden, which forever changed the landscape.
For over 80 years a steel plant industry infringed the creek with pollution. Today, water quality still suffers from run-offs that are traced throughout the trail area, including areas several miles north of Noccalula Falls.
Fortunately, nature over the years has re-established itself throughout the area. This is seen most noticeably around the James D. Martin Wildlife Preserve.
However, there remains an area that is considered virgin wilderness in the Noccalula Falls Gorge area because of its inaccessibility. There are many trees in this area, especially popular trees that are believed to be over 500 years old. Rare plants, some that are endangered like the green mountain pitcher plant and rare fern species, also are found here.
In addition, a lot of history can found along the trail.
The Vagabond recently was on the trail and thought about the early coal mining road that was there, as well as an Indian village shown on an early 1800 map. The old steam dummy line that brought excursions to the falls from Gadsden used parts of the trail. Located near Charles Street is an old concrete box that once held a steam engine, which pumped water to the old cotton mill from a dam at the falls. Not to forget was the old swimming site known to old timers as Rocky Shores.
Then there was the old Clayton Mill site. All of this area was the home place of Charles A. Clayton and his wife Nancy Richards Clayton. This acreage was part of a tract of land originally granted to Joseph Clayton (father of Charles) by the federal government in 1855.
About 1895, Charles Clayton granted Dwight Cotton Mill the right to build a dam across the creek on his property and to construct a pump station to supply water for the new textile mill. This dam formed a sizable pond and provided sufficient waterpower to operate the gristmill that Mr. Clayton erected soon after the dam was completed.
The mill ground corn into meal for the Claytons and their neighbors. Nora Clayton, the youngest of the Claytons’ 10 children, remembered a bell at the mill that was rung when someone wanted to swap his corn for meal. It was her task at a very young age to go to the mill to make the exchange. She also remembered her brothers’ summertime chore of diving into the millrace to remove lodge trash, and how uneasy this operation made their mother for fear the boys would tangle with a water moccasin.
The mill and pond were popular subjects for early photographers, who found its scenic beauty intriguing.
One of these early photographs appeared in the rotogravure section of the Birmingham News. The millpond was also a popular fishing spot with a number of Gadsden natives. A group of local doctors stocked the pond with bream and bass and spent many happy hours fishing at the location. The pond sometimes was used for baptismal ceremonies by some of the local churches.
The mill was still in operation up until about 1918, when Mr. Clayton died. A number of his descendants still living in this area have treasured memories and early photographs of the mill as it was at the turn of the century.