School is officially over for the year, and summer is upon us. It’s time to tell the kids to put down the electronic devices and get outside, at least as soon as it stops raining.
There are, of course, any number of options for children and their parents to get out and enjoy themselves in east central Alabama. But there are a few places that stand out as unique opportunities for outdoor recreation to suit the entire family.
TOP Trails Park, just outside the city of Talladega, will some day represent one of the most ambitious outdoor recreation areas in the state, if not the region. Located on what was once part of a munitions works in the Brecon area of Talladega, the park was surplussed by the federal government and turned over to the locals as a recreation facility.
The the park is being developed by a board appointed by the cities of Lincoln and Talladega with a plan to eventually include space for nearly every type of outdoor activity imaginable. But right now, what it offers primarily are camping and off-highway vehicle tracks. Hundreds of miles of them, actually.
Admission to the park is $10 per rider, and an additional $10 per camp site for those staying overnight.
During the Independence Day weekend, admission will be reduced to $6 per person and $6 per camp site in exchange for the donation of at least one canned food item for the Red Door Kitchen or Lincoln Food Pantry.
Work is ongoing on a kiddie off-road track, and the next major project will likely involve equestrian trials. But right now, riding is the big draw.
TOP Trails is also one of the few off-road facilities where night riding is available.
Okay, so let’s assume that it quit raining and now it’s just very, very hot, and humid to boot. You’re looking to spend a day cooling off and taking in some of your local landscape. Fred Couch and James O’Rear know just how you feel.
These men are the founding partners of Floating Fun LLC, located just off the Munford/Coldwater exit of I-20. They opened up April 1.
Floating Fun rents inner tubes designed to float you and your loved ones down Choccolocco Creek, O’Rear explained.
“We have a standard, green inner tube that we rent, but we also have doubles that can be used for weddings or anniversaries, or for people to ride with their children. We also rent ‘funyaks,’ which sort of look like a lounge chair with inflatables all around it. You steer that with a kayak paddle.”
All tubes come complete with beverage holders, and glass is forbidden. Please stick with cans and plastic containers.
Cooler tubes are also available, and are essentially what they sound like: floating vessels for your drinks and snacks, keeping them cold in the summer heat.
Each tuber gets a push stick (which many similar businesses charge extra for) and a mesh bag for collecting your own litter, as well as anyone else’s you might encounter during your journey.
“My senior partner, Fred Couch, helped start the Alabama River Trail, and I’m a retired teacher, so the environment is important to both of us,” he explained.
Single tubes rent for $10 for one hour, $15 for two hours and $20 for the ever popular, Gilliganesque three-hour tour, O’Rear said. There is also a five-hour tour available for $25. “Renting a double is twice the amount,” he added. “We also have tubes with seats or without, whichever you prefer. And we have a seven-hour kayak course, also.” This requires you bringing your own kayak, however.
All times are approximate, based on the speed and level of the water.
Tubers are encouraged to wear shoes to protect their feet. But do not wear flip-flops, because you will lose them, O’Rear said.
Floating Fun is open Wednesdays through Saturdays, with the last parties put in the water between 2:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. They will also open up on Mondays and Tuesdays for parties of 10 or more.
DESOTO CAVERNS PARK
Okay, so the caverns are only kind of outdoors, since you do have something over your head, but they should still be seen, and there’s plenty for the whole family to do afterwards as well.
According to marketing director Caprece Clinton, the one-hour guided tour of the caverns includes a new, state-of-the-art laser show. Once you’ve finished the tour, there are still 25 more attractions throughout the park.
These include panning for gemstones (you get to keep whatever you find), a giant maze, a giant squirt-gun maze (the most popular attraction), and more attractions both wet and dry.
Among these are pedal go-karts, for adults as well as children. “The mini pedal go-karts are actually new this year,” she said.
She also mentioned several spin rides, a bow-and-arrow shooting range, and a park train that is very popular among the little ones.
“We also have a beach ball blast that the toddlers really enjoy,” Clinton continued. “Basically, you have a closed area full of beach balls, and air coming up from the floor that keeps the balls up in the air. The beach balls are all bright colors, and the kids can run through and touch them or hit them or run into them.”
And for the children of all ages, the park also boasts a giant Slip-N-Slide.
DeSoto Caverns Park is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Hours will be extended to 6:30 p.m. throughout the month of July.
There is no charge for admission to the park, but you will be charged a fee for the cavern tour and various activities. Show up before 11 a.m. on Funday Mondays and you can get an armband good for unlimited attractions at half price.
SYLACAUGA PARKS AND RECREATION
Of course, all of the cities in the area have public parks, but the Sylacauga parks department offers a couple of things that are not found elsewhere in the area.
The first of these is a public skateboard park, which has been open in Noble Park for the past five or six years now.
Parks and Recreation Director Jim Armstrong said he has recently ordered new signs declaring the skate park closed at 9 p.m. and pointing out that this will be enforced by the police.
“We were staying open until 10 or 10:30 p.m., but that wasn’t really being enforced, and we were having a lot of trouble with vandalism,” he said.
Parents who want to drop their kids off at the skate park can also take advantage of the walking track, which offers a birds-eye view of the park.
The BMX track in Noble Park closed down a while ago, but Sylacauga has recently added a new attraction: the Sylaward Trail, a hiking and mountain bike trail running from Lake Howard and through the national forest. “It’s just beautiful,” Armstrong said.
The trail is open from daylight to dusk, Tuesdays through Sundays.
“The first leg is a short hike, about a one mile loop that most people can do in about 45 minutes. There are longer hikes available for the really industrious.” All the trails are clearly marked.