At 2,407 feet high, there’s no better place in Alabama to get a crow’s nest view of the changing colors of autumn than Cheaha State Park, which boasts of being Alabama’s highest point. The structures in this park are a lasting memorial to the hard work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. A visit to this park will open a gate to breathtaking scenery and a glimpse into Alabama’s rich, cultural history.
Civilian Conservation Corps Lends a Hand
Construction on Cheaha Park began in 1933 using labor provided by Franklin Roosevelt’s "New Deal" program designed to fight high unemployment in the darkest days of the Great Depression. The program provided young, unmarried men ages 18 to 25 with unskilled manual labor jobs related to conservation and natural resources.
Once these young men would pass a fitness test, they would then begin work on their housing, which often consisted of tents and, sometimes later, improved to barracks.
These young men would work for 30 dollars each month, and they were required to send 25 dollars home to their families each month to deal with hard times back home and avoid the temptation to spend the money while they had it. Enlistment time was six months, but almost every man re-enlisted because those were better wages than they had ever seen.
A phrase we use today actually came from the men working in the CCC. The saying, "Another day, another dollar" came from the young men working at this time in America’s history. The men who enlisted in the CCC were referred to as the "Peacetime Army."
The park is located in northern Clay and southwestern Cleburne Counties, and it is Alabama’s oldest continuously operating state park. On Cheaha, you will find a restaurant offering choices from Southern home cooking to seafood and steak, and adjacent to the restaurant is a swimming pool providing a cool break from a day’s hiking.
The restaurant, pool and hotel offer stunning views of the surrounding countryside. There are 10 stone cabins, six chalets, 30 hotel rooms, 73 improved campsites, semi-private camping and primitive camping. Then there’s the Bald Rock Lodge with 12 rooms.
Bald Rock Lodge
Completed in 1939, Bald Rock Lodge served as the original hotel and lodge for Cheaha State Park. Today, it is typically booked for conferences, large family gatherings and weddings. Bald Rock Lodge sits at the trail head of the Doug Ghee accessible trail that goes out to Bald Rock, a spectacular viewing point for rolling mountains which overlooks the cities of Oxford and Anniston, and, on a clear day, you can see the race track at Talladega.
Like many of the structures on Cheaha Mountain, this building was constructed with rocks and timbers from the surrounding countryside. Inside the lodge, you can see and feel the hand-hewn beams supporting the structure. It’s amazing to look at the huge beams that were shaped with no more than a broadaxe and adze. What’s even more striking, the beams and timbers are just as straight and true today as they were back in 1939.
By the 1990s, the building had been allowed to fall into disrepair, but it reopened in 2003 with grant money used for upgrades. Today the lodge has all the conveniences you would expect with modern hotels, but it retains the old lodge appeal of the 1930s.
Often, extended families can rent the lodge, and once the cost is split up with multiple families, it’s like having an entire hotel devoted to your own family gathering. Above the banquet hall rest the huge beams running the length of the structure, and the rocks were cut to shape with artistry that can’t be reproduced today.
A visit to Cheaha Park’s Bald Rock Lodge is not only a relaxing getaway full of breathtaking scenery, it’s also a journey through Alabama’s rich cultural heritage of the past. During the 1930s, the CCC took unemployed people and put them to work with a plan for saving money for themselves, their families and making a future. Today’s federal government seems to have forgotten the idea of putting people back to work and, instead, replaces work with a welfare or entitlement check.
Make a Plan to Visit
Bald Rock Lodge is truly a remarkable structure resting at the highest elevation in Alabama, and a visit here not only helps our state’s economy, but it allows future generations to see these sites built with sheer will and determination.
The Park’s peak season is during the autumn colors, so now would be a great time to book a family vacation, weekend getaway or simply a quiet dinner at the highest point in Alabama before the dates are booked. To book Bald Rock Lodge for weddings, family gatherings, business conferences or just large groups of friends, the same number will get you in touch with all park bookings. Call (256) 488-5115 to book events or find out more about park activities.
You can also visit www.alapark.com to find out more about Cheaha and the 22 other state parks in Alabama. Do your part to get the economy back in gear with a visit to one of Alabama’s state parks. You might not be able to work with the CCC these days, but your dollars can work to help Alabama’s economy.
John Howle is a freelance writer from Heflin.