ASRT unveils sign at Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve to aid kayakers, canoeists

Published 10:55 am Friday, March 25, 2022

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Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve is a busy place year round.

The Atmore park is going to be even busier after a new sign was revealed March 24 by the Alabama Scenic River Trail (ASRT) to aid kayakers and canoeists in exploring the waterway.

The sign is a part of an expansive river trail infrastructure program designed by the ASRT, a statewide nonprofit organization. The program includes directional signs, hundreds of waterfront campsites and additional features to help make kayaking and canoeing more accessible to people visiting Alabama waterways, according to a release. The ASRT has installed more than 125 directional signs across the state by using grant funding from the Alabama Department of Economic Development and Community Affairs.

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Poarch Creek Indian officials and Tribal Council Members, Escambia County commissioners, state and local officials, ASRT board members and Gulf Coast RC&D officials were present for the sign unveiling.

ASRT Executive Director Jay Grantland said adding Magnolia Branch Wildlife Reserve’s river trail system expands the organization’s trail.

Grantland said he often dreams about what the river system will look like 200-300 years from now.

“It’s been a major undertaking to get our arms around what all the river system has become,” Grantland said.

Grantland said with the help of the University of Alabama, the ASRT is developing an interactive map for paddlers. The map includes put-ins, takeouts, local information, congressional and legislative districts, campsites, and more.

“We expect a very big impact when this map is going to roll out,” he said. “This opens up a lot of opportunities for outfitters and communities for tourists to come.”

Magnolia Branch Park Coordinator Tracy Sells said this was a years-long process to get Big Escambia Creek on the map.

“If you start at the beginning of Big Escambia Creek, we have access to 25 miles going down into the Escambia River in Florida,” Sells said. “It’s just an awesome place. It’s a beautiful creek.”

Sells added that the park has a creek explorer program to teach children how to paddle.

“We just welcome everyone to Magnolia Branch,” she said.

PCI Chair and CEO Stephanie Bryan spoke of Elder Billy Smith, and his influence on the park.

“He invested in the youth of the community, and taught us our culture and dance,” Bryan said. “To watch him at this park; he put his blood, sweat and tears into this place.”

Bryan said the aim is to help draw tourism to not only the park, but to Atmore and Escambia County.

“At the Tribe, we believe in investing and growing in the communities,” she said. “We look forward to being partners with y’all. That’s what it takes to work together toward a common, collective goal.”

Sen. Greg Albritton said the area is a melting pot for everything.

“Escambia County has a unique situation in Alabama,” Albritton said. “We are the center of three drainage systems in the state.”

Albritton said the Conecuh River and Escambia River escape into Florida, and Little River flows down into the Alabama River.

“Then, those two tie together and we have the Perdido River,” he said. “I don’t know of another place that has three drainage systems. We are the melting pot where everything comes together.”

Baker said the sign unveiling brings exposure and what the park brings and how it brings tourism to the state.

The ASRT trail is a 6,500-mile network of waterways designated for recreational use in Alabama. The trail is the longest single-state river trail in the nation, and has been named a National Water Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior.