HEFLIN — Exactly 123 sixth-graders from all three elementary schools in Cleburne County converged on Cahulga Creek Park in Heflin Friday morning for Get Outdoors Day.
The event also included the official opening and ribbon-cutting for the Heflin Spur of the Pinhoti Trail — a 3.5-mile trail which connects downtown Heflin to the Pinhoti Trail at the U.S. Forest Service Road 500 parking lot.
The effort to make some old logging roads into the spur trail was spearheaded last year by Pleasant Grove Elementary Principal Adam Dasinger and avid outdoorsman Mark Truett. The pair were on hand for the ribbon-cutting.
“It’s just amazing, in 14 months when everybody works together what you can get accomplished,” Dasinger said. The trail became official last November after the U.S. Forest Service gave its stamp of approval.
Dasinger and Truett along with other teachers and administrators led a 2-mile round trip to a waterfall located on the spur trail — due to the size of the group, the boys and girls went separately.
Dasinger looked down from a rock above a pool of water where students frolicked at the base of the waterfall. The lush greenery around the scene was accented by blooms of mountain laurel which Dasinger pointed out.
“All the time and effort makes it really worthwhile that they can come and enjoy this and discover that this is a 30-minute walk within the city limits of Heflin,” Dasinger said, as the children’s laughter and screams of joy filled the forest.
Two adventurous 12-year-olds, Kierstyn Cotton and Beverley Skinner, climbed up the rocks and stood in the waterfall itself.
“It was like cool, it’s amazing and it was cold, climbing up to the waterfall,” a shivering Skinner said after climbing out of the abyss.
Kierstyn said she loves to explore and the waterfall was the favorite part of the day.
It’s that adventurous spirit that Heflin Mayor Rudy Rooks said the Outdoor Day was meant to foster.
“Just getting them outside, I think that’s an awesome idea. Kids today just seem to be trapped inside their homes or their little worlds with their devices and nobody adventures out and does any outdoor activities anymore,” Rooks said.
Rooks said that organized sports have kids “wrapped around the axle” and it was awesome to for the schools to support and promote the kids to “rip and run and do more outdoor activities.”
Rooks said that the opening of the spur trail is a “win-win” for hikers and the city of Heflin.
Rooks was thankful that Dasinger and Truett spearheaded the effort to make the trail a reality.
“Adam Dasinger and Mark Truett have just been phenomenal on this and just with their vision to do this and the tenacity to stay after it and make it happen has just been awesome,” Rooks said.
Shane Smith, Heflin’s city clerk, said the city is seeing a definite economic effect from the hikers visiting the city.
The children also learned about fishing, tying knots, disc golf and how to protect the forest, and Cheaha State park naturalist Mandy Pearson gave a lesson about Leave No Trace.
One of those students, Shylah Mitchell, 11, appreciated how the instructors were encouraging the care of wildlife and habitats.
“Nature is just amazing and pollution can really cause horrible things to nature,” Mitchell said.
Chuck Lockridge, a hiker from Piedmont, happened upon the Get Outdoors Day. He had his 1-year-old son, Harvey, in a backpack as he walked down to watch the ribbon-cutting and said he really enjoyed the Heflin Spur Trail.
“It’s a really nice trail, some of the best hiking on the Pinhoti, it’s nice and clean,’ Lockridge said.