Flint River provides outdoor adventures for Madison County residents
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSHUA BERRY
The Flint River flows through much of central and eastern Madison County, including two nature preserves – the J.D. and Annie S. Hays Nature Preserve and the Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary – before emptying into the Tennessee River. No matter what outdoor activity a person enjoys, they can probably find a place to enjoy it along the Flint River.
Canoeing and more
The slow-moving Flint River is well-suited for canoeing, kayaking and paddle boarding. Several points along the river provide a place to “hop in,” including Little Cove Road, Highway 72 East and, of course, the Hays Nature Preserve along old Highway 431.
Though a lot of the banks along the river are somewhat steep and muddy, several areas along Hays Nature Preserve are good for fishing. The Flint River has an array of fish for different types of anglers: bluegill, longear sunfish, largemouth bass, channel catfish, bullheads and more. A fishing permit and equipment are all that is needed to fish along the river, though certain areas, including the Goldsmith-Shiffman Wildlife Sanctuary, do not allow fishing.
The Hays Nature Preserve and Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary are less than 30 minutes from Madison. At either place, one can enjoy the splendor of the orange and gold leaves in the fall, as well as peaceful afternoons relaxing in the shade of the tall deciduous trees in the summer. Outdoor enthusiasts can hike along primitive trails and snap pictures of rare birds, beavers and other wildlife.
Trails and amenities
The Goldsmith-Schiffman Wildlife Sanctuary consists of more than 375 acres of hardwood habitat, with more than three miles of primitive trails that wind through swamps and bottomlands. There are not many amenities – just a few picnic tables and well-tended trails. Although there is currently no greenway for this wildlife sanctuary, the terrain is favorable to hiking and mountain biking. The sanctuary is an important part of the North Alabama Birding Trail, and this fall hikers might see great blue and green herons hunting for fish in the river.
The Hays Nature Preserve has several miles of paved greenways that follow along Flint River that are perfect for long bike rides, runs or walks. Hiking trails and horseback riding trails welcome Madison County hikers and equestrians. An education center is situated near the entrance of the preserve, and an Animal Track I.D. Trail displays the footprints of animals that live there. The preserve also features the Terrame Natural Playground, which boasts wooden paths, forts, a climbing wall, teepees and a tire swing.
Across from the Hays Nature Preserve is the Hampton Cove Golf Course, a 54-hole public golf facility that is part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail. Hampton Cove Golf Course has three courses to choose from: The Highlands, The River and The Short Course.
Harmony Park Safari
Toward the end of the Flint River is the Harmony Park Safari, a federally-licensed nature preserve where guests drive through the park to see a variety of exotic animals. The park has zebras, zebus, antelope, buffalo, giraffes, tortoises, a kangaroo, a camel and a reptile house. The park is open daily from March through November, and admission is $10 per person.
The Flint River offers Madison County residents many different ways to enjoy the outdoors. From kayaking and canoeing to hiking, golfing, fishing, bird watching and even going on a safari, there are no shortage of places to start a weekend outdoor adventure along the Flint River.