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
Value of the Park