Older Than the Hills

The Locust Fork River was flowing before the Appalachian Mountains were uplifted about 300 million years ago.  As Africa and North America collided to create the Appalachians, the Locust Fork eroded the newly forming mountains as they were lifted, holding firm its familiar route to the sea.

The river and its tributaries have carved a path through the surrounding ridges of sandstone and chert at least a dozen times. Today it exhibits hairpin curves bordered by steep bluffs. These entrenched meanders bear witness to the river’s tenacity and provides geological evidence that this river is older than the hills through which it flows.

Together river and ridges have created an array of habitats for a distinctively rich diversity of life.  The Locust Fork River arises in the scenic folded ridges of Alabama’s Valley and Ridge Province in the Blount County area.  Here it begins its tumbling course between high sandstone bluffs and through boulder-strewn rapids.

This upper stretch of the Locust Fork is a favorite playground for whitewater canoeists and kayakers for its small waterfalls, rocky shelves, inviting sand bars, and world-class rapids.

Flowing on, beneath historic covered bridges, the river gathers life with waters added from the Blackburn Fork and Turkey Creek.  As it rambles southwestward past farmland and forest through the coal country of the Cumberland Plateau, it flows roughly the path of an ancestral stream that flowed here at the time the Appalachians were first being born some 300 million years ago. That ancestral stream watered the dinosaurs’ ancestors.

The Locust Fork is a venerable and ancient treasure, a river literally older than the hills.  This river deserves to remain free-flowing – along the path it has claimed through the eons.

– adapted from Jim Lacefield, author of “Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks”

Your Hidden Treasure

The National Park Service places the Locust Fork River in the top 2% of all United States' rivers with "outstandingly remarkable" values. Based upon cultural heritage, fisheries, scenic beauty, geological interest, historical significance, recreational value and wildlife, ninety miles of the Locust Fork River qualifies for recognition in all categories.

The Locust Fork River is the major tributary of the Black Warrior River. Nationally known for its premiere whitewater abundance, the Locust Fork was included in the American Rivers OUTSTANDING RIVERS LIST for 1991. The American Whitewater Affiliation named it an Outstanding Whitewater River in 1990. In 1986, the Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan included the Locust Fork in their list of priority recreation rivers.

Sadly, Alabama has less than 10 free flowing rivers left, the Locust Fork is the second longest. In a 1987 study on the value of free-flowing rivers, of five Alabama rivers the Locust Fork was visited most frequently over the previous three years by river recreationists. Whitewater enthusiasts come from all over the Southeast and the rest of the country to enjoy the thrill of the Locust Fork's whitewater areas. The annual Locust Fork Whitewater Classic, the final race for the Alabama Cup, is held on this river. It is also cherished for its excellent fishing and recreational opportunities.

The Locust Fork boasts:

  • class III and IV rapids of whitewater
  • historic covered bridges
  • abundant fishing availability
  • easy access for swimming and picnicking
  • remarkably beautiful natural scenery
  • a multitude of aquatic life, including 74 species of fish
  • abundent migratory and stationary birds & wildlife
  • unique flora indigenous to the area
  • the flattened musk turtle (endangered species)
  • mussels & snails (several endangered species)
  • a possible home to the Red-cockaded woodpecker
  • a possible home to the Indiana grey bat

All these tourist attractions give ample aesthetic and economic benefits to both Blount County and to Alabama in general.

Siltation

Siltation is currently one of the biggest threats to the Locust Fork River. When our land erodes into our rivers and streams, the resulting siltation damages our river and destroys precious habitat. Siltation also signals loss of topsoil that took decades to form.

Siltation smothers habitats:

  • Siltation smothers the eggs of fish, frogs, salamanders and other aquatic wildlife. As the river or creek bed becomes more completely silted there are fewer places for these eggs to be laid. Thus, siltation decreases our future fish populations. It also hinders growth of other aquatic life: for example, insects and vegetation that contribute to the food chain. Siltation disrupts many levels of a healthy river or creek ecosystem.
  • Siltation fills in the rock crevices. Without crevices to catch the seeds of plants such as the Spider Lily (aka Cahaba Lily) on the Locust Fork, seeds will be washed to deeper water and lost. Plants, in addition to being beautiful, play a vital role in a healthy river, filtering the water and providing habitat and food for many creatures. These rock crevices also serve as homes to bugs that are an important part of the food chain for many other animals. The bugs are smothered, and their homes for future generations lost.

Siltation causes shallower waterways:

  • As rivers and streams become shallower due to siltation, they become more flood-prone. Land once in farms and pasture may now lie under water more often. Homes originally built outside the 100-year flood plain may now be under attack from flooding.
  • Shallow water ways are warmer than deeper waterways. Warmer temperatures are intolerable for many of the fish presently living in the Locust Fork River, such as Red Eye Bass, several colorful Darters, Shiners, and some catfish species.

What you can do:

  • Most farmers and timber companies are familiar with Best Management Practices (BMPs) and know how to keep our waters clear. Many do observe these guidelines. But disturbed, unprotected soil still happens, sometimes from unaware homeowners and landowners, leading to erosion and siltation.
  • Look for the source of the problem. Talk with the landowner. LET THEM KNOW YOU CARE. You can tell them about BMP’s, silt fences, and the impact of soil silting into our river.
  • Refer them to our local Soil and Water Conservation District (Oneonta: 205-625-3544). There may be state funds to help with remediation.
  • The federal offices of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (205-274-2363 ext. 3) can offer on-site technical advice. The NRCS office may also offer grant monies.
  • Contact Friends of the Locust Fork River or the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM)

Together, we CAN reduce the serious threat of siltation in the Locust Fork River.