James D. Martin Wildlife Park

Appalachian Highlands | Etowah | Best Seasons: Fall, Spring, Winter

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The James D. Martin Wildlife Park offers exceptional facilities for exploring an extensive backwater of Neely Henry Lake, on the Coosa River in the City of Gadsden.  In addition to a walking trail along the shoreline, a network of boardwalks allows visitors to walk out into the 300-acre lake, and even to visit a series of wooded islands situated along the mouth of Black Creek, providing superb views of the birdlife of this rich and varied ecosystem. This part of the lake has well-wooded borders, as well as extensive wetlands and low-water mudflats.  In winter, Bald Eagles are semi-regulars. Watch for them soaring and fishing here, and look for Osprey from March to November. In spring and summer, a nearby nesting colony of Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, and Black-crowned Night-Herons provides extra interest. Numbers of Green Herons also nest along the shore line.

From the main entrance and parking area on Black Creek Parkway, a 1/4 mile trail provides excellent shoreline birding and leads onto the network of boardwalks extending out over the lake. The boardwalks provide the best birding opportunities for waterfowl such as American Coots, Pied-billed Grebes, Double-crested Cormorants, Gadwalls, Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, Mallards, and Canada Geese.  Look for resident and migrant songbirds sheltering on the wooded islands, which also provide access to additional wetlands to the west. When water levels are low, shorebirds may be present on the mudflats and in the shallows. Look carefully for Yellowlegs, small Sandpipers, and Plovers, particularly in the spring, late summer, and fall.

From the Black Creek Parkway entrance, a second walking trail skirts the north-eastern shore and overlooks the lake to the right, with dense thickets to the left.  Where the trail forks, the right fork traverses a peninsula that reaches into the lake and offers an open wooded section with a covered picnic pavilion. This is a good place for finding canopy species, from a dependable variety of resident woodland species, to winter mixed feeding flocks featuring both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Brown Creepers, and Purple Finches and Pine Siskins. In spring and fall, this is also a good spot to look for migrant songbirds.  The peninsula trail makes a loop, and eventually rejoins the main trail, just before it crosses a creek. Look north to scan the smaller lake for additional waterfowl in winter. After crossing the creek the trail leads to a second, mall-side entrance to the park and additional parking.

From the mall-side trail entrance, you may walk south along the lake on a paved, landscaped path complete with benches to scan the near portion of the lake for waterfowl and herons.  Carolina Wrens and Song Sparrows pop in and out of the vegetation along the path here, and Northern Mockingbirds stand watch from light poles.

The southern end of the lake, near the mall, offers a good vantage point for the heronry located in the trees on a small island close to the I-759 bridge that spans the lake. This separate site on the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail, known as the James D. Martin Heronry,  is home to dozens of nesting Herons, and is usually active from late March until late June.

GPS:  33.997351  -86.008322

Gadsden, AL 35904

Gadsden Park and Recreation (Mailing address)
90 Walnut St.
Gadsden, AL 35904

Amenities: Parking, trails
Hours: 24/7
Fee: Free



Take I-759 W to Black Creek Pkwy. Take exit 2 from I-759 E, 8 min (7.4 mi).
Follow Black Creek Pkwy and S 11th St to your destination on the right. There is a parking area and entry point to the boardwalk.

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