Appalachian Highlands | Etowah | Best Seasons: Fall | Spring | Winter
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.
A small island was once home to a large rookery of herons and egrets each spring, but the trees on the island died, and the birds no longer nest there. The area close to the mall does have regular heron visitors, though.
Though there are no restrooms or visitor services inside the park, but the adjacent Gadsden Mall offers food, shopping, and restrooms. There are multiple restaurants, from fast food to local favorites nearby.
GPS: 33.997351 -86.008322
Gadsden, AL 35904
Gadsden Park and Recreation (Mailing address)
90 Walnut St.
Gadsden, AL 35904
The boardwalk and access from the both entrances are accessible. Some of the areas that do not have boardwalk rely on natural hard dirt which can be wet during and after heavy rains and flooding. The boardwalk located on the island has one stair, so this portion of the park is not accessible, but most of the boardwalk is very easy to use and offers benches along the way along with lookout opportunities into the marshy area.
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.
Amenities Available: Boardwalk, Gravel or Dirt Trails, Paved Trails, Wheelchair Accessible