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Cahaba River Race

See the river up close in Cahaba Classic River Race

White chalk bluffs about three miles upstream of the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers. Photo by David Haynes
White chalk bluffs about three miles upstream of the confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama rivers. Photo by David Haynes

Story and photos by David Haynes

Alabama’s Cahaba River winds its entire length of nearly 200 miles through Central Alabama and is one of the most biologically diverse waterways in the world. A rare flower found only in this river and a handful of nearby other streams – the Cahaba Lily – bears its name.

From its headwaters near Trussville to its confluence with the Alabama at the Old Cahawba State Archaeological Park near Orville – Alabama’s first state capital city – the Cahaba touches a variety of landscapes, wildlife and tens of thousands of people along its meandering course.

On Sunday, Nov. 2, the Inaugural Cahaba Classic River Race will give both experienced and novice paddlers a chance to see the river up close just above where it empties into the Alabama.

Old Cahawba Archaelogical Park and the Cahaba River Society are partnering to sponsor the event, which is aimed at introducing more folks to the joys of being on this unique river. Just about anyone with any kind of paddlecraft can participate, including the usual canoes and kayaks as well as the newly popular stand-up paddle boards.

Historic St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, recently restored with assistance from Auburn’s Rural Studio.
Historic St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, recently restored with assistance from Auburn’s Rural Studio.

The race will feature two courses. The first will be suitable for more experienced boaters and covers about nine miles from the Alabama Highway 22 bridge to the river’s mouth. The other “Fun Run” course is about three miles from Clear Creek to the same finish point.

Gordon Black, education director for the Cahaba River Society, explained that although medals or other prizes will be awarded to the winners in each class, the real goal is to show those who might not have tried paddling before that they, too, can do it.

He explained that the time required to run the nine-mile course will depend on the type of boat and level of paddler experience more than anything else. “A seasoned boater in a racing canoe might do it in an hour and 15 or 20 minutes while someone with less paddling experience in a standard canoe might take three or four hours,” he said.

But making the run in record time isn’t the point. The real reason for this race is to get people on the river who haven’t experienced what it has to offer.

This rural area is teeming with wildlife, including numerous species of birds (the park is part of the Alabama Birding Trail), various mammals, including a recent rare sighting of a black bear, and of course there is the occasional alligator. This section of the river passes beneath some impressive chalk bluffs and numerous sandbars. In several areas paddlers will pass stands of cypress draped with Spanish moss. Fishing here is good as well.

Linda Derry, site director for the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park, who along with her husband Richard is an avid canoe and kayak paddler, explained that the park now has canoe rentals available, thanks to various local businesses who sponsored the purchase of an initial stable of four canoes. 

She said the river race and canoe rentals are only the most recent of the park’s efforts to help bring visitors access to the river and its wonders.

The park has a shaded 1/8th-mile walking trail to a boat launch and observation deck – built with assistance from the Nature Conservancy – at Clear Creek, just before it joins the Cahaba three miles from the river’s end. The shaded wooden deck overlooks the mouth of Clear Creek and numerous cypress trees.

In addition to the canoe rental the park also has 12 cruiser bicycles that park visitors may use for free to explore the former capital city, which today is more of a ghost town where moss-covered trees shade only empty streets where state offices, businesses and houses once stood. The visitor center has interpretive maps to help guide and inform visitors on what they’re seeing as they tour the park.

With either the canoe rentals or bike rides, Derry recommends calling the park to make sure the units are not already reserved on the day of your visit.

For additonal information about Cahaba Classic River Race, Old Cahawba Archaeological Park or the Cahaba River Society, please visit www.cahawba.com or www.cahabariversociety.org.