HEFLIN — “Red Squirrel” and “Troop Leader” had just hiked into town via the new Heflin spur trail, which connects Heflin City Hall to the Pinhoti Trail, Wednesday morning. Michael Byerley, 53, and his hiking companion, Marcia Shawler, 62, said they prefer to go by their trail names while they are on hikes.
Byerley, aka “Troop Leader,” is from Texas and said he had heard about Heflin and the spur trail. The pair Wednesday was taking a two-day break from hiking the entire Pinhoti trail and decided to take the Heflin spur trail to get to Heflin instead of hitchhiking.
The 337-mile long Pinhoti crosses 170 miles of Alabama before continuing into Georgia. It is the longest footpath in the state.
“We were told if we came to City Hall we would get a Pinhoti sticker,” Byerley said.
The pair were laden with heavy packs and sported black metal hiking poles and other gear to help navigate the winding Pinhoti’s ups and downs.
Byerley said that he and Shawler had been hiking for eight straight days and needed somewhere to take a break due to rains that are forecast for Thursday and chose Heflin. Byerley, a seasoned hiker, said he has really enjoyed the Pinhoti.
“The Pinhoti Trail has to be the nicest trail I’ve ever been on. It’s very well laid out, very well maintained. The shelters are wonderful,” said Byerley.
“I’ve walked 2,000 miles on the Appalachian Trail and now I’ve walked 80 something miles on the Pinhoti Trail. The Pinhoti Trail is a hidden jewel,” said Byerley.
Shawler, from North Carolina, said she heard about the Pinhoti from expert hiker Jennifer Pharr.
“I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail and I’ve got about 800 miles left — it’s cold in the north right now so I came down here to train, to do this section,” Shawler said.
Shawler said the pair were completely out of food — “dead empty” — and chose Heflin to resupply.
“We love this. We love that this town is making a community out of it for the hikers, it’s great,” said Shawler.
Heflin City Clerk Shane Smith posed with the pair for photos at newly installed signs at City Hall which mark the location as the trailhead for the Heflin spur for the Pinhoti Trail.
Smith said the signs have been up for two weeks.
Smith and the city hope to make Heflin hiker-friendly by offering supplies and a place to stay overnight.
“We are working to make ourselves a trail town where we will have amenities and access to those people on the trails that want to take a day or two off and come into town,” Smith said.
Smith said the city is working with a local business to offer a hostel to host hikers overnight and well as offering a mail drop for hikers.
Smith said the two hikers in town on Wednesday came from Georgia, and Heflin was their first stop.
“There’s no fillup between here and Cave Spring, Ga.” said Smith.
Smith said that about four hikers trek to City Hall each week to get their Pinhoti stickers and photos with the new Heflin spur trail signs.
“It’s exciting, we love it, it’s nice to get to talk to people coming in here and get their reaction to our city and see how much that they’re impressed with what we’re doing, and they’re spreading the word for us,” Smith said.
Trail proponent Adam Dasinger — who spearheaded the effort to get the Heflin spur trail officially designated by the Forest Service last year — said he’s looking forward to what’s around the bend for the area.
“I’m just excited that that’s happening and I think it’s going to continue and will become a full-fledged trail town. I’m hoping and to see the value our natural resources bring the county and city,” Dasinger said on Wednesday.
“Shane and the city have really gone above and beyond with this, word travels fast,” Dasinger said.
Dasinger said that county resident and trail proponent Mark Truett invited him in January of last year to walk a route that Truett has known for years.
“He walked that route, and we presented to the City Council March of 2018, then we presented to the County Commission in April of 2018,” Dasinger said.
Both governing bodies passed resolutions supporting the effort, which Dasinger took to the Shoal Creek District of the Talladega National Forest in hopes of the spur becoming official.
After paperwork and a public hearing, the Forest Service designated the trail official in August 2018.
The official ribbon-cutting for the trail will be in April at Cahulga Park.
“I wanted to promote Heflin, Cleburne County and the Pinhoti Trail, not necessarily in that order. I’ve been saying it all along, I want to do what’s good for all three entities,” Dasinger said.