When I was a kid, the untamable vast forest was only 2 blocks away. It was called Luman Harris and it held innumerable hours of biking, hiking, play, and mischief. When the day would grow spooky and dark we always wandered towards the old house at one of the back entrances and wonder at the graffiti painted on the deserted and forgotten dead end. Think modern day Hansel and Gretel. We would also sometimes dare each other to go into the abandoned house that had satanic symbols and obscure heavy metal band names painted on the paint peeling walls. It was like a dark gateway to the first fairy tale forest I’d know. Everything about this place seemed magical and endless. I explored every trail, side trail, nook and cranny. I wonder if kids do this any more. Set free (kicked out) by their mothers they wander freely through the woods (does any one really have woods any more?) and learn the fine arts of hiding in the woods, animal tracks, sabotage, walking quietly so to sneak up on animals and birds, catching turtles, frogs and crawdads, tree identification, and most importantly how not to get your damned self lost. These things are invaluable. So recently I trekked back into the forest with my brother. It didn’t seem as vast as I remember and it only took a few moments to get my bearings and we were off.
Highlights of the day included (but were not limited to!) a trip to an enclosed softball field that proved at times paint drying boring (Whiskey refusing to run and play) and frighteningly wild (Whiskey running like mad and looking for a way out). Me dropping my camera into Whiskey’s poop, which was really gross considering he was still taking his “chocolate pudding” results medicine at the time. And lastly Whiskey picking up so much mud, muck, and red wet clay that I had to bathe him with a bucket of warm sudsy water outside my parents home after the hike was over (in the freezing drizzle) and go home early because we were both wet after the bucket bath and not white carpet friendly (mom, really, couldn’t you have picked any other color?).
Outline of the park:
It has a kiddie park with a few kid sized play things, 4 ball fields and then behind the park is the unofficial trials. These do not lead to anywhere except to some powerline trails and dead ends. There is no guide and no way for you to know you way around effectively unless you’re good at navigation. But it can provide a few hours of unscripted rambling, mountain biking, or dog walking if you’re brave enough. I couldn’t really guess how big the wooded section is, nor all of its history. I wish I knew though. There are certainly dirt “roads” back there complete with drainage pipes to allow for the creek to pass under the once upon a time traffic. But how long ago was this? Were there houses? Doubtful. Was it just a cut thru from one neighborhood to another? Or was it as far back as the mining days in the surrounding cities when not everyone had cars, and lots still had mules and horses. Who knows but the house on the far back side had an outhouse if that tells you anything.
During my day it seemed like everyone knew about the trails. Hikers, kids on bikes, people on dirt bikes, or in four-wheel drives seemed to be on the trail daily. I remember having to literally dive off the trail to escape being seen by older kids on dirt bikes (I enjoyed my anonymity). But then the huge snowstorm passed through in 1993 and it ruined the trail for more than half a decade. It collapsed the trees entirely across all of the trails. And so within about 10 years everyone forgot about it. Except for old holdouts like me and my family who still go there. To get to the trails, which are now cleared through years of decay, determined neighbors, animals, etc., follow these directions:
Directions: Take 65 North bound to exit 266 where you will keep left on the exit ramp and go towards Fultondale. Follow hwy 31 for about 3.5 miles until you see a Y shaped intersection that splits off to your right. This will be where Honeysuckle and Pineywood meet up with hwy 31. Take that Y but stay left onto Pineywood Road. Follow that for almost a mile until you see Park Street on your right directly across from Pineywood Baptist. Luman Harris Softball Park is right off of Park St. on the Rt.
4 softball fields
gated fields safe for dogs off leash (I couldn’t find any mention of restrictions about use of fields or dogs, so if anyone knows otherwise please let me know so I can clear it up on here)
unmarked trails behind park
Article about Luman Harris’ Field of Miracles, a field designed for special needs players (adult and children alike)
Gardendale Girl’s Softball site– also a much better and succinct list of directions to Luman Harris, but really, all you need is the name of the road (Park Street) right because doesn’t everyone use googlemaps or gps these days?
Trivia fact: Luman Harris Park is named after Luman Harris, a Gardendale native and former Atlanta Braves manager.
Rating: 7 happy, wet, mud covered tail wags out of 10!