By Catherine Godbey
For The Hartselle Courier-Journa

Can you feel it — the sweat beading on the brow and rolling down the nape of the neck, the blistering heat and suffocating humidity? Ahhh, summer in north Alabama has arrived — unofficially, that is.

According to the calendar, summer and even warmer temperatures arrive in the Tennessee Valley this week.

No worries, though. With dozens of creeks, ponds, pools, lakes, splash pads and rivers snaking through north Alabama, the possibilities for escaping the heat are endless. In light of the high levels of pollutants detected in public water, most recently highlighted by the West Morgan-East Lawrence Water Authority’s health advisory, David Whiteside, with Tennessee Riverkeeper, recommended locals take caution.

“It is beyond shameful that the world’s greatest country has creeks and rivers that are unfit for swimming. If people from Decatur and the surrounding areas want to beat the heat and go swimming in a public waterway, they will often have to drive some distance to find clean water that is safe for swimming,” Whiteside said.

Here’s a guide to 10 of the area’s free watering spots in Morgan, Limestone and Lawrence counties and Bankhead National Forest.

Morgan County

Carrie Matthews Pool and Splash Pad: A good spot to bring the family. Young children can enjoy the splash pad while teenagers and adults cool off in the pool at the recreation center at Sixth Street Northwest in Decatur. Open 2:30-6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays; 12:15-4:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays; 2:30-5 p.m. on Fridays and noon-5 p.m. on Saturdays.

Riverwild Splash Pad at Delano Park: Built on the spot of the original WPA wading pool and inspired by Alabama’s rivers, the splash pad with towering fountains of water creates a space for all children to play.

Aquadome Pool: For the days when not even water can provide relief from the heat and humidity, stop by the covered pool at the Aquadome, Fifth Avenue Southwest. The pool is open to the public 2:30-5:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3-5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays and 2:30-5 p.m. on Saturdays.

SNAP Splash Pad: Designed as a place for all children to play, regardless of physical ability, the Hartselle splash pad features water cannons, fountains, spray jets, buckets and animals that shoot streams of water. “We bought the tiger first, because we are the Hartselle High Tigers. Then we got to thinking about it and decided we needed an elephant also,” said Bob Francis, who oversaw development of the SNAP Playground and Splash Pad on Nanceford Road.

Flint Creek: Explore the waters, nature and birds of the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge by boat. Put in at a boat ramp east of the visitors’ center on Alabama 67. The water starts wide and shallow, but deepens as the creek flows southwest toward Hartselle.

Lawrence County and Bankhead National Forest

Caney Creek Falls: Janice Barrett, outreach coordinator with the environmental group Wild South, called this spot a few miles south of the Sipsey Wilderness “the perfect swimming hole.” The moderate one-mile hike to Caney Creek Falls goes past hardwood and Eastern hemlocks, through a sandstone canyon and ends at the bottom of a waterfall. Directions: From Moulton, drive south on Alabama 33 for 22 miles and turn right on Winston County 2. Go 3.7 miles and the trailhead will be to the right.

Sipsey Fork: Find relief from the mile-long hike in the shallow pools and swimming holes at Sipsey Fork’s Low Pressure Bridge. The river features a shady river bank, waterfall, sandstone canyon, rock shelters and aquatic life to explore. For 10-year-old Roc Carey, of Moulton, who participates in Wild South’s Wild Wednesday summer hikes, Sipsey Fork ranks as the best, “because we get to go swimming at the end.”

Wild Wednesday hikes, led by Barrett, will begin June 29 with Kinlock Shelter and Kinlock Falls and continue every Wednesday through the first week of August. Groups will explore Brushy Lake and Brushy Creek on July 6, Sipsey Fork on July 13, Sipsey Recreation Area on July 20, and Caney Creek Falls on July 27. To sign up, contact Barrett at janice@wildsouth.org or 256-974-6166.

Kinlock Falls: Picturesque waterfalls cascade off the rocks and into a swimming hole in the Sipsey Wilderness. While a natural attraction worth the time to explore, use caution because the currents can be swift and the water deep in places. For extra safety, make sure children wear life jackets. Dry off with a half-mile hike to the historic Kinlock Shelter, a rock shelter and Native American cultural site dating back thousands of years. Directions: Drive south on Alabama 33 from Moulton. Turn at the Sipsey Picnic trailhead. Continue along the paved and dirt road. After a sharp left curve, look to the right and park at the small pull-off spot. If you get to the bridge, turn around.

Safety tips: When hiking around creek beds or wading across rivers, step carefully because rocks are very slick. Never jump off rocks or a cliff into the water if you do not know the depth.

Moulton Splash Pad: Cool off in Moulton at the Alexander mini-park splash pad. The seven-feature splash pad on College Street is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday through Monday from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Limestone County

Elk River: For paddle-pushers, navigate the 21-mile Elk River in Limestone County by kayak or canoe. Don Bowling, who operates Fort Hampton Outfitters in Elkmont, recommended starting at Veto Road for swifter and wider water or Alabama 127 for more opportunities to explore creeks and rock beds. Boaters also can put in at Easter Ferry Road and Alabama 99. limestoneparks.com/canoekayak.

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