HEFLIN — Drive up into the mountains north of Heflin and you’ll discover that there is no cell phone service available. When you arrive at the Coleman Lake Campground, you’ll find no public phones. That’s actually part of the allure, according to Steve Ayres.
“We love it up here,” said Ayres, a volunteer who was helping U.S. Forest Service workers last week prepare the campground for its seasonal opening. “It’s just a beautiful place — you don’t have to worry about cell signal — you can get away from everybody. It’s quiet.”
Scheduled to open on Thursday, Coleman Lake Campground in the Talladega National Forest is a 21-acre campground in Cleburne County maintained by the U.S. Forest Service Shoal Creek Ranger District, according to District Ranger Karen McKenzie. It’ll be open until Dec. 6.
The campground isn’t entirely cut off from civilization. There is a medical emergency phone in the day-use area parking lot, and campground hosts have radios to call forest officials and public safety agencies if needed.
Thirty-nine camping sites on two unnamed paved loops accommodate “roughing it” in either recreational vehicles or tents. Towering pines and sweet gum trees provide ample shade at each campsite.
A 2-mile trail surrounds the lake, taking hikers across bridges and past informative signs and various types of plants and trees. The Pinhoti Trail, a long-distance hiking path, passes within 200 yards of the campground.
Boating, canoeing and kayaking are possible on the lake, however, power boats are limited to trolling motors. A boat ramp is available. The lake includes largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill and catfish for anglers.
A cordoned-off area can be used by swimmers during the warmer months. A large picnic pavilion seats 40 and is available on a first-come, first-served basis, or it can be reserved for $15.
Volunteer hosts stay at the campground for the duration of the season offering a variety of services, according to longtime campground host Charles Ray Bittle.
“I’ve been doing it for 17 years. I’ve been fishing, camping and hiking in the Talladega National Forest since I was 16 years old, and I’m 67 now,” Bittle said.
According to Bittle, the campground hosts assist campers who need help, clean bathrooms, maintain the grounds, and perform electrical work, plumbing and painting when needed. They also assist Forest Service employees and law enforcement if needed.
“I like the solitude and silence,” Bittle said. “I love the people who come here to camp.”
Over the years Bittle has seen a variety of wildlife at Coleman Lake, including deer, turkey, hawks, eagles, coyotes and smaller animals. Bittle said he’s never seen a bear but has seen signs of them.
Larry Reynolds, 70, and his wife, Linn, are helping co-host the campground with Bittle this year. Larry Reynolds was busy hauling gravel and dirt to the campsites with a front-end loader so volunteers could flatten the piles with rakes.
“It’s the best-kept secret in Alabama because it’s the best campground in Alabama,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds said that 25 tons of gravel were hauled in to do maintenance on the campsites. According to Reynolds, a lot of cleanup was required due to December’s snow. Volunteers fixed “seven picnic tables and three water leaks,” he said.
McKenzie said Coleman has “the best hosts in the world ... we couldn’t run that campground without our wonderful volunteers and hosts.”