Editor's note: This post is part of the Eighth Day Escape adventure series and contest by Parks Explorer. Throughout this year, Parks Explorer will share trip ideas, staff stories, activity suggestions, and much more from each Alabama State Park. These monthly posts will be personal accounts of traveling Park Naturalist Emily Vanderford, where she details her park adventures and experiences in the unique natural areas across the state. While reading about park adventures is not nearly as meaningful as experiencing them first-hand, Parks Explorer wants you to know just how many opportunities there are for you to enjoy Alabama the beautiful.

The Eighth Day Escape Contest began January 8, 2016 and will conclude January 8, 2017. Monthly winners will be randomly selected each month and the grand prize winner will be drawn January 8, 2017. Click here for contest entry forms and more information. Be sure to enjoy previous monthly adventures also: JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay (Part I),May (Part II)June, July

In honor of school being back in session, this month's adventure features two parks that serve as the perfect escapes for students at both the University of Alabama and Auburn University. Lake Lurleen State Park is located just miles from UA's campus in Coker, while Chewacla State Park is right around the corner from the heart of Auburn's campus. Both of these parks feature fantastic mountain biking opportunities and beautiful campgrounds, along with plenty of other ways to adventure or relax in the great outdoors. I can't help but think that if I had attended Auburn or Alabama, I would have found myself at one of these parks for plenty of study breaks.

I started this month's journey at Lake Lurleen where I spoke with facility operator, Dee White about the mountain bike trails in the park. There are over 23 miles of trails in the park! She shared with me that the West Alabama Mountain Biking Association are some of the most frequent riders, and they are also essential in the trail maintenance at the park. Since I have very little (basically zero) mountain biking experience, I decided to contact some of the folks with WAMBA to see if they had any suggestions for where I should begin as a novice mountain biker (how to select a equipment, where to receive instruction, how to find other riders, etc.). In the case that some of you are interested in trying out a few trails by bike, I thought I would share what I learned with you.

I spoke with Joe Fuller, current WAMBA President, and he shared that there are weekly rides perfect for beginners. Some of these take place at nearby Sokol park while there are also opportunities on the Ridge Loop Trail at Lake Lurleen. He also mentioned WAMBA's Facebook page as a source of information for new riders. If you aren't quite ready for the financial commitment of purchasing a bike, he suggested renting or borrowing a bike that fits you. The University of Alabama's Outdoor Recreation Program at the Rec Center offers mountain bike rental along with a long list of other equipment rental (e.g. Kayaks, paddleboards, camping equipment, etc.)! I also spoke with WAMBA member Gary Falls who told me about an exciting mountain bike event that happens annually at Lake Lurleen -- the DCH Sports Medicine "Dirt, Sweat, and Gears Trail Duathlon." He said the 2016 race saw the largest crowd in the event's history with 125 racers. Be sure to mark your calendars for next year's event to be held June 24, 2017. Even if you are beginner, this event is sure to be a great way to spend a day whether you choose to be a spectator or participant!


More trail information about Lake Lurleen and other Alabama State Parks can be found on the new Trails section of the alapark website. Be sure to check out how you can become a member of the Dirt Pass Trails Team! Also be sure to check out the new Alabama State Parks Interactive Map, where you can view the parks' trails with your choice of basemap and custom print maps which feature the sections of the trails you will be using.

While I was at Lake Lurleen last month, I also made sure to stop by the brand new primitive campground at the park. The new campground features 6 sites, each with a fire ring and plenty of space to spread out. There are two trail toilets within close proximity to these new sites, and there is a bathhouse within easy walking distance. I have to admit that I decided not to camp on that visit, but I'm very much looking forward to spending a fall weekend at the park. 

Perhaps you should make plans at Lake Lurleen this fall also! The primitive and improved campgrounds are the perfect place to stay next time you are in the Tuscaloosa area. If you have plans to attend a University of Alabama football game, be sure to reserve your campsite early! They fill up quick on game weekends, and you don't want to miss out! Lake Lurleen is a treasure in our state park system so be sure to give it a visit soon!



Have you visited an Alabama State Park in the last 60 days? Submit a photo from your trip along with a contest entry form and you could win (be sure to save a copy of this form before completing it). This month's prize pack includes a weekend of FREE CAMPING at Lake Lurleen State Park plus TWO Chewacla State Park vouchers for "Buy One, Get One Night Free" to be used by you and a friend on any overnight accomodation at the park (must be used on same visit). Winner will also receive Sweet Home Alabama gifts and more.


JANUARY WINNER (entries received 1/8 - 2/7): Cathy Struntz
FEBRUARY WINNER (entries received 2/8 - 3/7): Chelsea Gathers
MARCH WINNER (entries received 3/8 - 4/7): Cathy Goss
APRIL WINNER (entries received 4/8 - 5/7): Lamar Johnson
MAY WINNER (entries received 5/8 - 6/7): Malia Ragan
JUNE WINNER (entries received 6/8 - 7/7): no valid entries 
JULY WINNER (entries received 7/8 - 8/7): Nikki Nelson
AUGUST WINNER (entries received 8/8 - 9/7):
SEPTEMBER WINNER (entries received 9/8 - 10/7):
OCTOBER WINNER (entries received 10/8 - 11/7):
NOVEMBER WINNER (entries received 11/8 - 12/7): 
DECEMBER WINNER (entries received 12/8/16 - 1/7/17): 

GRAND PRIZE WINNER (all entries received 1/8/16 - 1/7/17): 

Go Explore!

Monday, August 8, 2016