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n the last decade, Alabama has gone a little trail crazy, and not without good reason. We’ve got a lot to boast about, including the renowned Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail, the Civil Rights Museum Trail, a wine trail and numerous other non-official trails that commemorate everything from the state’s role in aviation to our haunted history. But then, two years ago, a new trail was created, one that is such a perfect fit for the trail concept, it’s amazing it hadn’t been formed before. The Alabama Scenic River Trail was christened and started “officially” showcasing some of our state’s abundant natural wonders in June 2008. This network of rivers is the longest such trail contained in a single state in the country, and it begins at the Georgia state line on the Coosa River. It winds its way south to the Tallapoosa River, then to the Alabama River, crossing nine lakes along the way, and terminating at Ft. Morgan in the Gulf of Mexico. In all, the Trail covers over 1,000 miles of water and is welcoming visitors from across the state and across the country. But the Trail could have just as easily not come into being. If Fred Couch, current president of the Scenic River Trail’s board of directors, had not nurtured a little seedling idea that entered his mind years before, and convinced others to join him, it might never have amounted to more than a passing thought. An avid canoeist, local paddling instructor and retired jeweler, the Anniston native swears the whole endeavor began quite innocently. “I got into paddling after a raft trip down the Tallapoosa,” Couch said. “That was about 42 years ago.” He then began sharing his paddling passion with others, working as an instructor and even teaching the art and sport at Jacksonville State University for five years. Then, about 10 years ago, Tom Semmes, one of Couch’s regular customers at his jewelry store, asked Couch to lead him on the trip of a lifetime. “He asked me to take him on the 3,000-mile trip taken by explorers Lewis and Clark,” he said. Couch talked Semmes down to a more manageable trip of 155 miles instead, and while on their adventure, they crossed the Cimarron Trail. “I started thinking about Alabama’s trails and thought to myself, ‘We have so many rivers and have natural beauty like this in Alabama. Why don’t we have a river trail?’”

Couch forgot about it once he got home, but five years later, the idea crept back into his mind and slowly started pounding away. “It kept bothering me, so I called the Alabama Tourism Department and just told them what I was thinking about. I figured I’d give them the idea, and they’d run with it, and I’d be done.” But he was far from done. The folks at the Tourism Department did like his idea, and they wanted him to meet with them in Montgomery to really talk about it. “I got a printer friend to print up a small brochure and a map of the rivers I was thinking about to take to the meeting,” Couch said. “A few days after our meeting, I got a call, and the Tourism Department agreed to print the brochure on a much larger scale.” In fact, they printed 25,000 of the brochures and put them in every state welcome center. And then the Tourism Department

put Couch in touch with others around the state who had also expressed interest in a river trail. “In 2006, we all got together, probably 72 of us,” Couch said. “I got up and spoke about my ideas and explained why we needed a river trail.” Charlie Doster, also of Anniston, was there. Couch had taught him to canoe some years earlier, when he was 72 years old. “I got into canoeing to have something to do with my grandkids,” he said. “Fred took me out on Terrapin Creek, and even with the broken hand he had at the time, he taught me all the paddling basics. When I heard him talk at that first meeting about his dream of a river trail, I just got caught up in his enthusiasm. I’ve been at it ever since.” Less than a month later, the ad hoc committee held its first formal meeting. “There were about 25 people then, and that was our core group. We all wanted this and believed Summer 2010 Longleaf Style 59

Longlead Summer 2010  
Longlead Summer 2010  

The Summer 2010 issue of Longleaf