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Nurture Your Love of Nature in This Alabama County

From hiking and cycling to kayaking and boating, the outdoor activities in Limestone County will fill your weekends with adventure.

By Cary Estes on February 21, 2023

A marina near Athens, AL
Jeff Adkins

We’ve all heard the saying, “The journey is more important than the destination,” and whether that’s true is still up for discussion. However, when considering outdoor activities in Limestone County, the journey – or in this case, the multiple trails you can tread – might just be superior. In fact, a journey down one of these trails offers views of beautiful scenery, exercise and a chance to stop at numerous parks along the way, among other things.

“Our county has five communities, and each one of them has trails and greenways and parks where children can play and adults can get exercise and fresh air,” says Teresa Todd, president of the Athens-Limestone County Tourism Association. “It’s important to have those pieces of nature in a community in order to have a well-lived life.”

Swan Creek Greenway
Singing River Trail

Travel the Trails in Limestone County

Significant investments in parks and other recreational options have been made in Athens and Limestone County, making it a prime destination for recreation.

“It is a consistently beautiful area, with all these rivers and fields and valleys,” says John Kvach, executive director of the Singing River Trail, an under-development greenway that will add to the growing number of trails in and around Athens. “The city is investing in different opportunities for the emotional, physical, and spiritual health and wellness of the people and the community.”

A prime example is the 11-acre Jimmy Gill Park. Nearly $1 million is being invested in the creation of this facility, which will have a basketball court, picnic pavilions, walking trails and playgrounds. The city also is in the early stages of work on 32-acre Pryor Park.

But outdoor recreation in the Athens area is as expansive as the outdoors themselves, thanks in large part to several popular trails that crisscross the region.

Richard Martin Trail in Elkmont, AL

Get Ready to Ride

The Richard Martin Rails-to-Trails is named in honor of the Athens native who led the effort to transform an old L&N Railroad line into a 10.3-mile walking/biking trail, running north from downtown to just past Elkmont.

Perhaps the most convenient trail to access is the Swan Creek Greenway. This mostly shaded, 2.3-mile paved trail follows its namesake waterway just east of downtown. Herons can be spotted along the river’s edge, and the scenery during the fall when the leaves are changing color is simply spectacular.

“Go out on the Swan Creek Trail on a Friday or the weekend and it’s full of people walking, running and biking,” Kvach says. “It’s also becoming a mode of transportation for a lot of people to get to different places around Athens.”

The mile-long Marbut’s Bend Accessible Trail near the Elk River features compacted crush walkways and wooden bridges that are ideal for use by wheelchairs, scooters and strollers. Meanwhile, water-lovers can access the river at five different locations along a 22-mile stretch and canoe or kayak past beautiful dogwood and redbud trees.

A Spectacular Adventure Ahead

Once the Singing River Trail is completed, it will stretch for over 200 miles across northern Alabama, linking Athens with Decatur, Madison, Huntsville and several smaller towns.

Here are three more trails and events that are must-dos:

Noah Bike & Vintage Car Trail: For approximately 45 miles each way, this circular trail meanders through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains from downtown Athens to near the Tennessee border. While it is a favorite of both bikers and motorcyclists, the trail gets its name from the number of antique and sports car enthusiasts who frequent it.

Athens AL Historic Volksmarch: A volksmarch is an organized 5K or 10K hike in which participants proceed at their own pace. The Athens AL Volksmarch passes through the city’s three historic districts, providing both scenery and history.

African-American Heritage Trail: The trail connects several historic African American communities (Trinity, Fort Henderson, Lucy’s Branch, Little Elk, Beulah Land), highlighting contributions that have been made by local residents in music, art, science, law, literature and military service.

Lucy’s Branch Marina near Athens, AL

Surrounded by Water Activities in Limestone County

Outdoor recreation in Limestone County extends far beyond the earthen path. There are plenty of wonderous waterways, as well. In fact, the county is practically surrounded by water, with the Elk River to the north and west, and the Tennessee River and Wheeler Lake to the south.

The Elk River is popular among kayakers and canoers, who can launch near the Tennessee state line and drift past bluffs, forests and meadows to the Tennessee River, which is 23 miles away. There are five in-and-out points along the way for shorter excursions.

Pickleball is a growing sport in the Athens-Limestone County region.

Serve Up Some Pickleball in Athens

One of the newest ways for people in Athens to get exercise is through the growing sport of pickleball. Interest in the sport has gained traction so rapidly that within the past year a group of enthusiasts formed the Athens Alabama Pickleball Association. The city’s first official pickleball tournament attracted nearly 200 entries.

“We’re dealing with enormous growth as far as participation and awareness,” says Chase Spitzer, Athens Alabama Pickleball Association vice president. “There was nothing organized a year ago. It was just some random groups playing pickleball. Now, it is one of the top sports in this area.”

Indoor courts for pickleball are available at the Athens Recreation Center and Canebrake Club, and there are a few outdoor courts at Swan Creek Park. The city has announced plans to spend $200,000 to build six new pickleball-specific courts at Big Spring Park.

“We’re working to create more opportunity to keep up with demand,” Spitzer says. “This is a sport that provides a competitive social atmosphere for people of diverse ages. There are people who I used to see struggle to get through a single game who are now playing entire tournaments, and a lot of them are elderly. We’re having an impact on the physical, social and mental health of people. You are seeing people’s lives change physically, and also in their friendships within the community.”

And There’s Plenty of Parks, Too

And finally, for those who want to be outside but not necessarily far from home, there are numerous neighborhood parks throughout Limestone County.

One of the highlights is Big Spring Park in Athens, affectionately known to locals as The Duck Pond. Big Spring Park features a pavilion, a children’s playground, three tennis courts and, of course, a spring-fed pond. Other popular parks include Bassham-Phillips Park in Elkmont and Lucy’s Branch Park and Marina near Athens.

“This is a good community that is full of hospitality,” Vining says, “with a whole lot of opportunities for outdoor activities.”

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