Oakmulgee Ranger District

On July 3, 2020, public access will reopen to developed campgrounds, day use areas, and dispersed recreation area restrooms throughout Alabama’s Bankhead, Conecuh, Talladega and Tuskegee National Forest. For a current listing of recreation site openings, please check here:

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General Information

The 157,000 acre Talladega National Forest, Oakmulgee District is located in the Fall Line Hills of the Eastern Gulf Coastal Plain Physiographic Region.  Dissected by the Cahaba River, the Oakmulgee, and its bottomlands, generally run east to west, and to the south is the Black Belt Prairie region.  The vegetation is similar to Upper Coastal Plains with steep slopes more reminiscent of the Appalachian Plateau.

The longleaf of the Oakmulgee represents Alabama’s largest contiguous longleaf forest.  It is also among the most unique ecosystem as it is a remnant ecosystem cut off from any current similar land cover types for sharing flora and fauna species or their genetic and reproductive characteristics. Soil types, vegetation, topography, and historical land use patterns have created a mosaic of habitats often contradictory including hardwood species on slopes and pine species in mesic drainages.  

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Payne Lake Recreation Area

The Payne Lake Recreation Area is located on the western most portion of the Talladega National Forest, Oakmulgee Ranger District, just off Alabama Highway 25.  The beautiful 110-acre lake is surrounded by camping and day use areas offering outdoor enthusiasts solitude, a scenic view across the lake and picturesque campsites.  Payne Lake is open year-round to provide camping and day use recreation opportunities.

Payne Lake offers access to 26 camp sites on a first come first served basis. Our camp sites are located between two camping loops known as the Westside Camping Area and the Eastside Camping Area. So no matter your style of camping, primitive tent camping or modern RV, Payne Lake has a camping spot that fits your desire.

The Eastside Camping Area currently offers 8 camp sites and is the perfect place if you are seeking solitude. These campsites are designed to be primitive in nature. There is no electric or water hookups available in this location; however access to water will be available from a shared common location. The sites are small, but can easily accommodate tents and small travel trailers.

The Westside Camping Area conveniently offers 18 camp sites to accommodate modern recreational vehicles or tents. All 18 camp sites have water hook ups available. Seven of the camp site have both electrical and water hook ups.

There is a bath house with showers and a pavilion available to campers.  A dump station is available near the entrance to the area. Payne Lake offers the perfect base camp to launch your hunting trip to the nearby Oakmulgee Wildlife Management Area.  You can also take a long walk through open longleaf forest leaving from your campsite or the day use parking area.   Early risers may hear the bald eagles nesting nearby coming by for a fish breakfast.

The day use areas include a swimming area and nearby bathhouse; a pavilion and several picnic tables.  Fishing is available from the bank as well as from boats launched from the boat ramp (electric motors only – gasoline motors may be attached but must be tilted up).

For detailed information on hunting in the National Forests in Alabama and Alabama’s Wildlife Management areas, please visit the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website at www.outdooralabama.com.

You will find additional information in the Recreation Activities section.

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Primitive Camps

If you're looking for a true camping experience, then you're looking for primitive camping. The Oakmulgee offers 8 primitive camping areas nestled in the forest. These areas are mowed once a year and have sufficient room between trees to pull in a horse trailer or a small camper.  There areas are available for year-round primitive camping or staging a horse-back ride on the nearby forest roads. There are no tent pads available in these areas.  Campers are urged to be careful with campfires, use a pack it in and pack out method with their trash, and always adhere to Smokey's message to make sure fires are dead out.

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History

A Brief History of the Oakmulgee Division of the Talladega National Forest

(For a more detailed history, visit: www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd587006.pdf )

Districts: History - Oakmulgee Division Photo 6

 

The Oakmulgee Division came into federal ownership through two separate processes in the 1930s.  The area east of the Cahaba River was originally part of the Oakmulgee Purchase Unit.  The area west of the Cahaba River was acquired by the Resettlement Administration.  The initial reconnaissance of both sides was conducted by William W. Ashe, Assistant District Forester out of Washington, D.C. in the 1920s.

 

In 1923, Ashe wrote a reconnaissance report on the Oakmulgee Purchase Unit.  It consisted of 73,994 acres located between the Cahaba River and Mulberry Creek in Perry, Chilton, and Dallas counties.  Ashe reported that the area had once contained largely longleaf pine on the uplands, but it had been cut-over and repeatedly burned-over.  There were, however, enough surviving old trees to provide for reseeding.  Farming had been restricted to the alluvial bottoms.  About ten percent of the bottoms had been farmed; the rest of the bottomland was in sweet gum and shortleaf pine.  Most of the slopes showed signs of severe erosion.

 

In 1926, Ashe wrote a reconnaissance report on the Cahaba Purchase Unit.  It contained 220,000 acres located on both sides of the Cahaba River in Perry, Bibb, Hale, Tuscaloosa, and Chilton counties, including the area of the Oakmulgee Purchase Unit he had described in 1923.  The Cahaba Purchase Unit was drained by the tributaries of the Black Warrior and Cahaba Rivers, both navigable streams, and the soils in the Unit were subject to erosion.  As such, the land could have been considered for federal acquisition under the Weeks Act of 1911.  However, the acquisition was being considered under the authority of the June 7, 1924 Act (Clarke-McNary) for the purpose of timber production.

 

Districts: History - Oakmulgee Division Photo 5Ashe estimated that about 15 percent of the entire unit had been farmed, but only eight percent was cleared and under cultivation in August of 1926.  Most of the uplands had been heavily cut-over; however, the central and southern portions of the area west of the Cahaba River still retained a large amount of uncut longleaf pine timber.  Most of this timber was owned by the Kaul Lumber Company.  The area on the eastern side of the Cahaba River, the Oakmulgee Purchase Unit, was mostly cut-over lands owned by the Jackson Lumber Company.  Although the land was cut-over and bare at the time of his report, Ashe was confident that the longleaf pine would make a recovery.

 

In September of 1934, another reconnaissance report written by Wingate I. Stevens, Regional Forest Inspector, was submitted to the National Forest Reservation Commission.  Steven’s report covered only the Oakmulgee Purchase Unit, that is, the lands on the eastern side of the Cahaba River. The area had been cut-over and had received very little protection from fire.  It was highly unlikely that the area would receive proper protection and management under private ownership.  Conversion to a national forest had the support of both Senator John H. Bankhead and State Forester Page Bunker.  The boundaries of the unit were laid out to include the maximum of the cut-over lands and to avoid the lands better suited for farming.  Stevens also noted that there would be no need to cooperate with Homestead Projects, one of the many facets of the Resettlement Administration.  The area was sparsely populated and there were no abandoned lumber or mining towns within the purchase unit which had stranded families. 

 

The Oakmulgee Purchase Unit was approved by the National Forest Reservation Commission on January 21, 1935.  It contained 280,423 acres.  Land acquisition began immediately.  On February 21, 1935, The Marion Times-Standard reported that the government planned to buy a “huge acreage for reforestation.”  The survey of lands within the unit had begun under the supervision of M.E. Brashears in Perry, Hale, and Chilton counties.  On March 28, 1935, The Marion Times-Standard reported that R.E. Rae of the U.S. Forest Service had announced that a permanent national forest was to be established east of the Cahaba River if a sufficient amount of land could be purchased at a reasonable price.  The headquarters would most likely be located in Marion.  The article asked landowners wishing to sell to the government should contact Mr. Rae at his temporary office in Marion.  On January 17, 1936, after enough land had been acquired by the federal government, the Oakmulgee District of the Talladega National forest was created by proclamation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

 

Districts: History - Oakmulgee Division Photo 4The Resettlement Administration was one of the New Deal agencies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  It was created on April 30, 1935 by executive order.  It consisted of four programs.  The Land Use Program took substandard and submarginal land out of crop production and converted it to best use.  The Resettlement Program relocated families living on the submarginal land being purchased, providing them with adequate farmland and homes.  The Rehabilitation Program worked to restore the credit of indigent farmers on suitable farmland.  Finally, the Suburban Program built communities on the outskirts of urban areas for low-income city workers and suburban farmers.           

 

The possibility of the federal government purchasing submarginal land in western Alabama was being discussed as early as January of 1935.  On January 24, 1935, The Centreville Press reported that a survey of cut-over lands was being conducted in Bibb County and five other counties by the Alabama Relief Administration.  Once the survey was completed, land was to be purchased through funding by the Federal Surplus Relief Corporation. 

 

On March 7, 1935, The Centreville Press reported that the farmers of Hale, Perry and Bibb Counties had met at Pondville.  The Bibb County Agent, C.L. Hollingsworth, had assisted in having Congressman W.B. Oliver come to explain the government’s plans to purchase 165,000 acres of submarginal land.  The area would be reforested and areas established for game preserves.

According to the article, more than 60 percent of the area had been logged and burned over, and about 76,000 acres had been “devastated or worn out by poor farming methods to the extent that they will have to be planted to trees.”  Some of the area was reseeding naturally.  Most of the area being considered for purchase had good possibilities for game management, and the Forest Service would be cooperating with the State in game protection.  The Forest Service also estimated that there were 1,600 families that would benefit from future employment in the establishment and maintenance of the proposed national forest, with jobs being created in fire protection and timber improvement work.

Districts: History - Oakmulgee Division Photo 3On May 23, 1935, The Marion Times-Standard reported that with the options obtained from the Kaul Land and Lumber Company on 67,000 acres of cut-over lands in Perry, Hale, Bibb and Tuscaloosa counties, the success of the submarginal land project was virtually assured, according to Foy Helms, the project supervisor.  The government would spend several million dollars in returning these submarginal lands, which were poorly suited for agriculture, into forests, game preserves, and recreational spots.  Better farm soil would be made available to the present residents through a financing agency which was in the process of being set up, according to Mr. Helms.  With the Kaul Tract, the property on which options had been obtained increased to more than 80,000 acres.

On December 20, 1935, The Tuscaloosa News reported that plans were going ahead on the “huge land project.”  Word had been received from the regional headquarters in Montgomery that the Resettlement Administration was moving ahead with its 100,000-acre land utilization project at Greensboro.  There were 150 men working on the project area, cleaning brush and removing fire hazards.  There had been some discussion of establishing a transient camp at the project, but the issue was settled, and the labor would be done by people who had sold their land to the government. 

 

On February 6, 1936, The Marion Times-Standard announced that work on the $712,000 project had begun with 170 men working.  The number of men working on the project was expected to increase “as rapidly as men can be called out, both from WPA and Resettlement Administration clients.”  There were 300 farm families stranded on the project area that were unable to make a decent living.  Dr. W.A. Hartman, assistant regional director of the Resettlement Administration was expecting these families to be relocated onto more productive land.  Hartman was quoted, “It is human engineering.”  He said, “If life can be made more secure for these people and turn into an asset land that today is a liability, the money expended will be a sound investment.” 

 

Districts: History - Oakmulgee Division Photo 2On June 24, 1937, the editor of The Greensboro Watchman reported that Mr. Robert K. Greene, the head of the submarginal land project, had taken reporters from the paper on a tour of the project.  There were approximately 600 men working on the project at the time.  This number was about 400 men less than had been formerly employed.  At the time of the article, 100 miles of fire lanes had been cut through the forests of the 12 mile by 12 mile project area, and one main highway had been constructed.  The primary work being done at that time was the construction of the dam on Five Mile Creek, under the supervision of Mr. Carroll Smith.  The dam would create a 110-acre lake.  The large concrete spillway was nearing completion, and work on the 1,200-foot dam was progressing rapidly.  The base of the dam was 120 feet, and would be 17 feet high and 40 feet wide at the top when finished.  According to the author of the article, the dam “looks to us as if it should last forever.”  The lake, they predicted, would become a fisherman’s paradise in the years to come.

 

From the dam, the group drove “up and up and up” until they were “on the top of the world” until they came to “the fire tower in Hale county.”  This would have been the “Lake Tower” constructed less than a mile west of the lake.  This was one of three towers; one had been built in Bibb County (Pondville Tower) and the third in Tuscaloosa County (Shiloh Tower).  The article challenged the public that “if you have nerve enough you may climb to the top of the tower, which is 100 feet high, and get a view that we imagine is as beautiful and impressive as any to be found in all the land.”  At the foot of the hill, on the west side, a home was under construction for the keeper of the fire tower. 

On February 3, 1938, The Greensboro Watchman contained an “Editor’s Article” regarding the Land Use Project.  As soon as the “weather breaks and the warm breezes begin to blow” the editor planned to visit the submarginal area and see the dam that had been built across Five Mile Creek.  The dam had created a lake that would cover 150 acres, and would be a “fisherman’s paradise” in a few years.  The lake had been stocked with “many thousands of trout and bream” by the Government.  The editor noted that “of course the Government will have rules and regulations in regard to fishing.”  While the lake was 20 miles from Greensboro, the editor wanted the readers to know that there were good roads leading to the lake.  According to the article, the government had spent nearly $400,000 developing the submarginal area.  A deer park had been created within the area, the fencing for the park cost some $10,000.

 

On May 15, 1938, The Tuscaloosa Times reported that the Agricultural Department had announced the transfer of the 87,000 acre West Alabama land use project from the Resettlement Administration to the United States Forest Service.  The Resettlement Administration was being liquidated.  The badly eroded and burned over land, located in Bibb, Hale, Perry and Tuscaloosa counties, was being converted into a forest, game refuge and recreation area.  With the transfer of the land use project lands, the Oakmulgee Ranger District nearly doubled in size.  The transfer of land and facilities would take place over the next two fiscal years, finishing in Fiscal Year 1940.   

 

On October 6, 1938, The Marion Times-Standard announced that the “Forestry Service” would be granting hunting permits to Perry County hunters.  According to District Forest Ranger Cecil E. Clapp, “in charge of all National Forest lands in Bibb, Chilton, Dallas, Perry, Hale and Tuscaloosa Counties,” permits would be issued to persons desiring to hunt on the Government-owned land.  Hunters also needed to purchase the regular county or state hunting license.  The permit could be acquired by writing to Ranger Clapp, care of “The U.S. Forest Service, Selma” or by contacting any of the Forest Service tower men or other field men.

 

Districts: History - Oakmulgee Division Photo 1According to the article, the only area on the forest that was not open to hunters was the newly-established game refuge, consisting of 60,000 acres, located in the center of the area formerly under the supervision of the Resettlement Administration in Hale, Tuscaloosa, Bibb and Perry Counties.  The boundaries of the game refuge were in the process of being posted by the Alabama Department of Conservation at the time of the article.

 

On July 12, 1940, The Tuscaloosa News announced that Lake Margaret (now called Payne Lake) was open to Alabama’s fishermen.  The lake had officially opened for fishing on July 1, 1940.  According to State Conservation Commission Dr. Walter B. Jones, it was reported that 2,000 pounds of bream and bass were taken by 203 anglers on the first day the lake was opened to the public.

 

By 1946, four fire towers had been erected on the eastern side of the Cahaba River: Maud, Perry Mountain, Dallas and Cahaba, giving coverage to the entire area except for 1,000 acres north of Highway 6 (present-day Highway 82).  The Oakmulgee District had received no assistance from the Civilian Conservation Corps, and as a result, only two forest service roads had been constructed.  The Oakmulgee District had begun timber sale activities in 1939 “on a fairly substantial scale.”  In 1940, plans were made to begin a timber survey, but the project was delayed by the entry of the United States into World War II.  A planting survey conducted in 1941 “only lightly touched” the Oakmulgee District, as the area was adequately stocked or had sufficient seed trees.  In 1945, it was determined that an inventory of the timber stands was needed.  The inventory was conducted and a timber type map produced.  The 1946 “Timber Management Plan” was produced from this inventory.

 

On August 8, 1950, The Tuscaloosa News (Tuscaloosa, Alabama) reported that the Talladega National Forest, located in four West Alabama counties (the Oakmulgee Division), had been proposed as a site for a projected U.S. Hydrogen-bomb plant.  This proposal was never implemented.

 

Robert G. Pasquill, Jr.

National Forests in Alabama

Forest Archeologist and Historian (Retired)

 





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