Hurricane Creek Park

Hurricane Creek "M Bend" Park

7005 Old Birmingham Hwy
Tuscaloosa, AL 35404

Dr. Richard Cobb and Nancy Cobb, Naturalists

Hurricane Creek “M Bend” Parks

Natural Setting

Dr. Roland Harper, a pioneer Alabama botanist/geographer, wrote in 1906 that “Tuscaloosa is probably at present the most convenient point in the eastern United States at which to study the boundary between the Paleozoic region and the coastal plain…” This is still true today and Hurricane Creek is the most accessible place in Tuscaloosa County to see that “boundary” – the place where the Appalachian (Paleozoic rock area) ecosystems meet and interact with the coastal plain ecosystem.

Going from downtown Tuscaloosa to Hurricane Creek by road takes you across the Fall Line Hills portion of the Gulf Coastal Plain. Sand, gravel, clay and ironstone underlie the area. Turning north on Hwy 216 and going downhill to Hurricane Creek takes you into the Appalachian terrain – the Pottsville Formation appears with its sandstone, shale, conglomerate and of course, coal.

Dr. Michael Tuomey, Alabama’s first state geologist published a report in 1847 on Tuscaloosa County’s coal and iron resources. He reported finding six coal seams on a branch of Hurricane Creek and still more further downstream. This report led to literally hundreds of mines being dug into the bluffs along Hurricane Creek.

The mines were low “belly mines” where miners literally lay down on the job in mines less than three feet high. Coal was often dragged out in tow sacks. Most of these mines (over 125 are known in the “M Bend” area) were abandoned by the 1930s but in those hard times of the depression, many people crawled into the old mines to dig the coal from the support pillars left by the miners. This was a very dangerous way to get free fuel, and it left large unsupported ceilings. Thus after the Summerfield Subdivision was built in the 1970s, most of the mines entrances on the main creek were sealed by a mine safety agency.

As noted earlier, Hurricane Creek is a boundary area; here Appalachian and Gulf Coastal Plain plants meet. Here strange combinations occur. On the coastal plain, the main evergreen shrub along the stream banks is Florida anis (Illicium floridanum), while mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) occupies the same niche in the Appalachian areas. At the “M Bend” site both are present. Dr. Eugene Allen Smith, Alabama’s second state geologist, found a rather rare small tree at eh “M Bend” before 1900. This beautiful little tree – the silky camellia (Stewartia malacodendron) was note reported again for over 100 years (even Dr. Allen couldn’t find it) until George Wood spotted it in 2002.

There are three species of native azalea at the “M Bend,” as well as a rather rare ginger, an equally rare stonecrop: and a dozen species of fern occur there. From February to May, wildflowers abound at the “M Bend.” The plants are nice, but the backdrop is spectacular: tall sandstone cliffs with beautiful “box work” formations and a creek with sandstone boulders. To see Hurricane Creek today is to see, albeit on a smaller scale, what the Black Warrior River looked like before it was dammed. Hurricane Creek is the last free-flowing Appalachian-type stream which can be seen before the Black Warrior River reaches the Fall Line at Tuscaloosa.

Some Historical Notes

  1. The old Huntsville Road crossed Hurricane Creek near the present 216 bridge. A stagecoach stop was located at the top of the hill northeast of the crossing. It could be seen as recently ad 2003, when it finally collapsed.
  2. The University [of Alabama] Corps of Cadets retired to a campsite on Hurricane Creek when the Federals burned the campus in April 1865. They fortified an area near the stage coach stop but the Federal forces went elsewhere and the cadets left.
  3. Two wooden trestles were built below the “M Bend” over a century ago. One is still being used today as is one of the tallest trestles in the state; trains crossing about 100 feet above the creek.
  4. For over one hundred years “going to the creek” to university students meant going to Hurricane Creek. Swimming, wading, hiking and picnicking took place both at the mouth of the creek and where the Old Birmingham Highway, now Hwy 216, crossed the creek.
  5. A popular swimming beach was operated near the Hwy 216 Bridge in the 1950s. It was a popular spot for students and residents alike on hot summer days.  

Value of the Park 

  1. The esthetic and environmental value of the “M Bend” is protected by the park on the right bank; the left bank is protected by its Summerfield owners.
  2. It secures valuable green space for future generations.
  3. It provides opportunity for environmental studies. Hurricane Creek is a “stream in recovery.” The park is an excellent place to study the creek’s aquatic recovery and the process by which native plants repopulate an area (plant succession).
  4. Areas once open to the public will again be available for hiking, swimming, picnicking and canoeing. Hiking trails and a canoe launch/take out point will be constructed.
  5. With little “improvements” the park will act as a buffer along the proposed Eastern Bypass, leaving the area as natural and unspoiled as it once was.
  6. The residents of Tuscaloosa and Tuscaloosa County are extremely lucky to have such a scenic area so close to downtown.