By Matt Kasper
The Anniston Star
Jacksonville State Field Schools hike leader
Francine Hutchinson leads a group of about 20 participants on a hike along the
Pinhoti Trail on Saturday. The hike was the first of the season for the program.
Photo: Kevin Qualls/The Anniston Star.
A long, low branch
stretches across the path of 24 hikers tramping Saturday along the Pinhoti trail
on Dugger Mountain.
Each hiker ducks quickly, and the trek continues.
There are no mosquitoes, rattlesnakes or poison ivy to contend with. It’s
perfect hiking weather, says Francine Hutchinson, who is leading the first
Jacksonville State University Field Schools hike of 2007.
“This is the hardest stretch,” Hutchinson tells the group, talking over her
shoulder as the group tackles the steep incline of the mountain.
Lace up your boots and grab a stick. The JSU Field Schools hiking schedule
A cave tour is planned near Fort Payne on Feb. 17, followed by a Little River
Canyon hike in early March and a deep river canyon hike March 31.
“Our hikes are unique because of the high level of natural history and
historical interpretation,” says Renee Morrison, assistant director of JSU EPIC
and Field Schools.
Morrison says the hiking trails are treated on the hikes as outdoor
“Our participants leave us with experience, knowledge and the pledge to
return for more,” she says.
Hutchinson, who has been involved in past efforts to preserve Dugger
Mountain’s wilderness characteristics, tells Saturday’s hikers that some 750
plant species have been documented on the mountain.
Less than a mile up the trail, she points to ground pine growing about 10
feet from the trail.
Saturday's hike offered a chance to study native plant life
up close, including several species of fern. Photo: Kevin
Qualls/The Anniston Star.
“I want to show you one
of my favorite plants,” she says. The spores once were used in gunpowder, she
explains, and Chinese researchers are experimenting with the plant as a cure for
A little farther along the trail she pinches catbrier, a vine that produces
edible leaves considered by some to have aphrodisiac properties.
The hikers push through ankle-deep leaves. Blue paint marks on trees reassure
them that they are still on the trail.
“This is the first time I’ve been on a trail in Alabama,” says Barbara
Haisch, an Eastaboga resident who says most of her hiking experience has been on
trails in North Carolina.
“You can StairMaster in the gym or do the natural StairMaster here,” comments
Llewellyn Cook, a JSU history professor.
For Bobby Floyd, a field assistant for JSU Field Schools, Saturday’s roughly
six-mile hike offers a good inaugural jaunt into the woods, because it is medium
difficulty and medium length.
“This is just a real pretty trail,” Floyd said.
“We do it in the spring, once we get more wildflowers blooming.”
For more information about the JSU Field Schools events, call 782-5697 or see
the Web site at fieldschool.jsu.edu.