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Rallying around the Flagg

Working to bring Coosa’s Flagg Mountain to new heights

The Flagg Mountain observation tower offers a 360-degree view of the area. In this drone photo, Cheaha Mountain can be seen beyond the peak of the tower roof. Photo courtesy Alabama
Forestry Commission

By Jim Plott

In April 1935, the Montgomery Advertiser proclaimed it would be one of Alabama’s most visited state parks once completed.

Citing its proximity to Montgomery and Birmingham, the newspaper said, “The park will be a spot known far and wide throughout the South … for with its beauty and quietude it will be an ideal location for one to spend vacations.”

But barely three years after opening, Weogufka State Park in Coosa County – unlike many other state parks built by the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps – fell back into obscurity, although it remained in use by its owners, the Alabama Forestry Commission, until 1989.

Flagg caretaker Meredith “Sunny” Eberhart, here with a copy of his book that focuses on his hike, is every bit an attraction on Flagg Mountain as the trails and tower. Photo by Jim Plott

Now a new spotlight is being shone on the 1,152-foot-high Flagg Mountain, where the park was situated.

The Alabama Hiking Trail Society, along with the recently formed volunteer group, Friends of Flagg, have, with the blessings of the Forestry Commission, reopened the 240-acre-site in the Weogufka State Forest.

The surviving CCC-constructed rustic cabins have been refurbished and are available for overnight lodging while work is expected to be started soon on returning the 70-foot-high rock observation tower, which crowns the mountain, to its historic glory.

Adding to Flagg Mountain’s appeal is that it is the start of the Pinhoti Trail, a 330-mile route that connects to the Appalachian Trail in north Georgia. Several shorter trails strung out like necklaces also adorn the mountain and the site is also part of the Alabama Birding Trails.

Flagg caretaker and veteran hiker, Meredith “Sunny” Eberhart, who also goes by the trail name “Nimblewill Nomad,” says while a lot of work remains, the progress is already beginning to pay dividends. The site draws in visitors almost daily, including many who have started or ended their Appalachian Trail trek there.

“Getting the mountain open to the public last summer for the first time in nearly two decades was a milestone,” says Eberhart, 80. “Folks have been coming to the mountain in increasing numbers. They’re interested in both the work done on the historic CCC structures and hiking.”

And while he might not admit it, visitors are also eager to hear Eberhart’s personal tales of his hiking the Appalachian and every major scenic U.S. trail.

It was Eberhart’s reputation that drew hiker Nathan Wright and his family of nearby Sylacauga to Flagg Mountain.

“When I found out he was here, I decided to visit and see what was going on,” Wright says. “Despite living so close, I knew nothing about this place. Now we come up here one or two times a month to either camp or hike or help out. Sometimes we just sit and talk.”

The Forestry Commission also likes what it is seeing.

“With the beauty of the forest and the significance of the Pinhoti Trail starting here, restoring and maintaining the historical integrity of the fire tower at Flagg Mountain is very important to the Alabama Forestry Commission,” State Forester Rick Oates says. “We’re looking forward to reopening the tower in the near future for everyone’s enjoyment, and we hope it will become a popular Alabama destination.”

Volunteers Craig Thornton and Joe Jones smooth in the concrete walk to one of the cabins. Photo courtesy of the Alabama Hiking Trail Society

New life on Flagg Mountain

Following renovation, Friends of Flagg slowly began breathing life back into the mountain. In 2018 the group began holding “First Friday on Flagg,” a monthly potluck supper designed to reacquaint locals and introduce newcomers to the mountain while also building support.

In December, the group held its first Pinhoti Winterfest, an all-day event that included a trail run, camping and hiking programs and vendors. And the group, which relies on donations and volunteer support, has begun selling Flagg-logoed souvenirs.

Weogufka State Park was one of several built in Alabama under President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal policy, intended to provide employment to people during the Depression. More than 200 workers, mostly from New York and New Jersey, were employed at the Weogufka site in the early 1930s. Although many were unfamiliar with construction, the workers, living in an army-type environment, succeeded in building the tower, cabins and access road and damming a creek and installing lines to supply water uphill to the cabins.

Yet the park was never completed, and when the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources was formed, Weogufka State Park, unlike other CCC park projects, didn’t make the cut.

Instead it remained in the hands of the Forestry Commission, which used the tower as a fire look-out post and the cabins to house rangers and provide an office.

John Roberts, whose father was the ranger, recalled the time he spent on Flagg Mountain “some of the best years of my life.” His family moved into the caretaker’s house when he was 3 and lived there for 14 years until his father, L.D. Roberts, died in the line of duty.“I didn’t think so then, but looking back I had some of the best experiences of my life,” recalls Roberts, 78. “We would walk to the creek to swim. I had to walk to school, and our closest neighbor was three miles away.”

Twilight descends on the Flagg Mountain tower in this time-lapse photo.
Photo courtesy Chris Kent

Before he died, L.D. Roberts hired Kate Prater, a local resident who became legendary during her 35 years as tower keeper and radio operator. Long-timers said “Miss Kate” had the ability not only to spot wildfires a county away, but to pinpoint their location. She also developed the ability to predict heavy rain days ahead of time by noticing when the tower’s interior stone walls developed condensation. After its discontinued use, the site began a rapid decline until another CCC group stepped in. The Coosa County Cooperators, a local group of volunteers, provided new metal roofs for the tower and adjoining structures and repaired broken windows and damaged wood throughout the complex.

“They basically saved the whole place from falling down,” says local resident and AHTS member Callie Thornton, who helped initiate the Flagg renovation. “Had it not been for their work, we probably wouldn’t have had anything to work with.”

While Eberhart admits that Flagg Mountain will likely never ever rejoin the inventory of other state parks, it has an opportunity to regain its glory status.

“Flagg Mountain is a monumental mountain; it is a very special place both historically and geographically,” Eberhart says. “Of historic significance is the old Civilian Conservation Corps complex. Of geographic importance, it is the southernmost mountain in the Appalachian Mountain Range. Through continuing and ongoing efforts by AHTS and AFC, it is certainly destined to become a very important asset for Coosa County and the state of Alabama.”

Getting there

Flagg Mountain can be accessed by a number of different routes. These are the easiest for most travelers:

From Birmingham: Take Interstate 65 south to Exit 212 in Clanton. Turn left onto Alabama Highway 145. Within two miles veer right on Chilton County 55. Travel about 20 miles (crossing Lay Lake). Turn right at the Flagg Mountain sign (CCC Camp Road). Follow signs to the cabins and caretakers lodge or to the tower, which is higher on the mountain.

From Montgomery: Travel north on Interstate 65 to Exit 212 in Clanton. Turn right on Alabama Highway 145. Then follow the remainder of the directions above.

NOTE: Gates to cabin are open almost daily, but because the complex is staffed by volunteers, visitors should send a text to 417-543-3801 to ensure gates are open or to reserve a cabin for the night.

For more information on Flagg Mountain, search on Facebook for the public group “Friends of Flagg.”