The city of Muscle Shoals derived its name from the wealth of freshwater mussels found throughout the rocky stream bed located through this rolling section of river.
Mussel harvesting is traced back to the earliest inhabitants of Alabama. The mussel was a basic food staple of the Native Americans and were available the year round. It was partly this readily available food source that allowed prehistoric Indians to settle at Muscle Shoals permanently as long as 10,000 years ago.
The LaGrange Rock Shelter in Colbert County holds the earliest evidence of human presence in Alabama and dates to roughly 11,280 years ago.
In 1953 a large relatively undisturbed cave shelter was discovered in Jackson County, Alabama, about four miles west of the town of Bridgeport. The cave consists of two rooms or chambers which open to the northeast. A permanent stream flows into the mountain in the first room.
The Tennessee Valley Divide
A few miles north of the city of Gadsden and just east of the small town of Rockledge begins a long narrow ridge known as the Tennessee Valley Divide. This ridge spans in a northeasterly direction for over thirty miles and serves as the watershed divide between the Coosa River Basin and the Tennessee River Basin. This ridge can be seen when traveling on US Interstate 59. Interstate 59 is actually located in the valley between the ridge of the Tennessee Valley Divide and Big Ridge. Big Wills Creek, a large tributary to the Coosa River flows in the valley formed between these two ridges and is known as Sand Valley. The Tennessee Valley Divide reaches its climax at Fox Mountain which straddles the Alabama / Georgia state line at a height of 1,980 feet. The Divide continues in the same direction into Georgia to an area north of Trenton, GA.
Key Cave National Wildlife Refuge, located in northeast Alabama was acquired in 1997 by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to ensure the biological integrity of Key Cave, Collier Cave and the aquifer that is common to both caves. Key Cave has been designated by the Service as critical habitat for the endangered Alabama cavefish, and as a priority maternity cave for the endangered gray bat. The only known population of the Alabama cavefish (Speoplatyihimus poulsoni) exists in Key Cave. Collier Cave is important to both species as potential habitat. Presently most of the Service owned land (1,000 acres) which serves as a recharge area for Key Cave is in row crops. Agricultural lands owned by the Service need to be converted to native grassland and/or upland forested areas to ensure protection of the caves’ recharge area from contaminants and silt. Converting these agricultural lands to native grasslands and hardwood forest will also provide additional habitat for neotropical migrant birds species and upland game species. (US FWS)
Fern Cave National Wildlife Refuge is located two miles north of Paint Rock, Alabama. The Refuge borders Paint Rock River on the south and consists of upland hardwoods and limestone rock out crops. The cave has five hidden entrances and is critical habitat for the endangered gray and Indiana bats. Over a million gray bats hibernate in Fern Cave, as do several hundred endangered Indiana bats. Fern Cave also harbors the threatened American hart’s tongue fern at one of its entrances. (US FWS)
Sauta Cave National Wildlife Refuge (formerly Blowing Wind Cave National Wildlife Refuge) lies just above the Sauty Creek embayment of TVA’s Guntersville Reservoir, seven miles west of Scottsboro, Alabama. The refuge consists of 264 acres of upland hardwoods and limestone rock out crops. The cave has a double entrance, upper and lower, and is critical habitat for endangered gray and Indiana bats. The cave serves as a minor hibernation area for Indiana bats and historically as a major maternity cave for gray bats. A summer emergence count for gray bats in 1997 found over 200,000 individuals. The cave was also used as a saltpeter mine during the civil war. (FWS)
Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge is Alabama’s largest refuge and covers 35,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods, wetlands, pine uplands, shoreline and riparian woodlands, agricultural fields, and backwater embayments. Thousands of wintering waterfowl land here each year. The Refuge is extremely biologically diverse and hosts 115 species of fish, 74 species of reptiles and amphibians, 47 species of mammals, and 285 different species of birds. The Refuge also manages and protects 10 federally listed endangered and threatened species. The refuge rests on the middle third of the Wheeler Reservoir and supports the southern-most and Alabama’s only significant concentration of wintering Canada geese. It also serves as winter habitat for the State’s largest duck population. Located in an urban area Wheeler Refuge has a large public use and environmental education program. (FWS)
Buck’s Pocket State Park sits in a narrow gorge cut into Sand Mountain by South Sauty creek. The park covers about 2,000 acres and offers some of Alabama’s most unique views.
Guntersville State Park covers 5,909 acres overlooking the lake.
Joe Wheeler State Park is split into three separate areas. The main facilities are near Rogersville, Alabama and include a modern resort lodge containing 75 rooms, a restaurant and convention facilities, all on the shores of Wheeler Lake. The ELK RIVER area has a group lodge with accommodations for 30. The WHEELER DAM area has rustic cabins, tennis courts, boat launch and a recreational area.
WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT AREAS
North Sauty Creek
Skyline State Wildlife Management Area together comprise over 13,000 acres of land and water. Managed by Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
TVA PUBLIC LANDS
Big Spring Creek Small Wild Area in the Guntersville Lake Watershed includes a stand of old growth, bottomland forest (approximately 13 acres) and a large expanse of shallow water habitat mingled with numerous islands and sloughs.
Cave Mountain Small Wild Area covers 34 acres and sits on Guntersville Dam Reservation. Consisting primarily of upland hardwoods, the site also contains a saltpeter cave, another cave harboring an Alabama protected species, and frequently has beaver dams.
Coon Gulf Small Wild Area provides habitat to at least 55 Alabama state-listed plant species as well as provides habitat for two endangered mammals. Nitre Cave and Blowing Hole Cave are believed to be hibernation caves for one of these two species.
Honeycomb Creek Small Wild Area covers 274 acres located on Honeycomb Creek. In addition to numerous limestone outcrops, the area is characterized by upland hardwoods, and old-growth, short-leaf Virginia and loblolly pines. Sinkholes, caves, and other karst features are also present.
South Sauty Creek Small Wild Area adjoins Buck’s Pocket State Park and is often described as the most scenic area on Guntersville Reservoir.
Blowing Wind Cave Gray Bat Sanctuary provides vital roosting habitat for the endangered gray bat. This protected cave sits next to the Blowing Wind Cave National Wildlife Refuge which provides vital foraging habitat for this species.
Mink Creek Habitat Protection Area includes the Gross Skeleton Cave and provides roosing and foraging habitat for one of the endangered bats found in the area.
Honey Bluff Habitat Protection Area encompasses 5.6 acres of bluff along Guntersville Lake and includes Hambrick Cave, which provides habitat for the endangered gray bat.
The Tennessee River performs an unusual feat once it reaches Alabama. “In an odd act of geographic abandon, the river abruptly turns southward from its southwesterly course and makes a u-turn to the north due to the geographic peculiarities of the Cumberland Plateau.’ -McDonald (Lore of the River)
“These hazardous and sometimes terrifying shoals were finally and completely conquered by the engineering genius of man.” (McDonald Lore of the River)
W.C. Handy: Father of the Blues
One of the most intriguing characters from the Tennessee Basin was Sam Houston. Inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey, sixteen year old Sam, set out for Hiawassee Island to live with the Cherokee tribe. His new family nicknamed him “The Raven.” Houston returned to civilization to aid his mother after the death of his brother and sister, but always remained loyal to his Cherokee family as he went on to enter the history books as a soldier and politician. (Paddling the Tennessee River)