The Perry Lakes are a cluster of old river channels or oxbow lakes that were abandoned long ago as the Cahaba River changed course. As the lakes silted in they have come a deep water bald cypress-tupelo swamp. The park/preserve is open to hiking, canoeing, bird watching, fishing and there are picnic tables as well. The Nature Trail follows a combination of old roads and narrow trails to form a loop trail around these wetland lakes with an extension out to the largest gravel/sand bar on the Cahaba River known as Barton’s Beach. In less than a two mile loop walk you can experience a Spanish Moss drapped Cypress Swamp that looks like something out of Louisiana, as well sit on a what locals call a beach and listen to the Cahaba River gurgle by.
Start your nature walk by heading left on the road back the way you drove in. Shortly, you will cross the covered bridge, one of many of park’s structures built by Auburn University’s Rural Studio. The nature trail will take you along the edge of the cypress swamp to Round Lake where the Observation/Birding Tower is located. From of the top of this tower you can look across the lakes and cypress swamps to hills on both sides of the Cahaba River Valley. Once you have enjoyed the view, continue on the nature trail to Secret Lake. Be sure to enjoy the views of the cypress swamps and bottomland hardwood forests along the way.
There are benches all along the sections of the trail loop next to the lakes so you can stop to take in the sights and sounds of nature. The trail follows higher portions of the floodplain where you may see Atamasco Lilies and other wildflowers blooming in the early spring before the trees leaf out. As you approach the third bridge from the parking lot, low over the swamp’s waters, you have arrived at Secret Lake. Notice the jungle of Dwarf Palmetto Palms in the understory of the bottom-land hardwood forest around the lake. Along with the Spanish Moss and wide based cypress and tupelo trees, these help give the area a subtropical feel.
Continue on the trail through a younger bottom-land hardwood forest partially infested with exotic (and very invasive) Chinese Privet bushes and then pass through a grassy semi-open area including Red Cedar and other scrubby trees. You’ll then hit a T intersection with an old road. Take a left on the old road and pass through another section of bottom-land hardwood forest with exotic privet in the understory before emerging into a grassy opening next to the Cahaba River. Angle right through the tree line on the other side of this opening and you will emerge on to the gigantic gravel/sand bar known as Barton’s Beach.
While on Barton’s Beach look for the empty shells of freshwater mussels. Notice mussel shells of different sizes and shapes, representing part of the world class freshwater biodiversity found in the Cahaba River and in Alabama as a whole. Note the small trees trying to colonize the gravel bar only to be set back as floodwaters dump new layers of sediment on to the beach. Once you have enjoyed the beach, follow the trail back to the T intersection and continue straight, heading back to the parking area. Along the way, watch for beaver dams and sections of the lakes covered with Spaderdock lily pads (which feature small bulb like yellow flowers).
Animals that can be seen in the general area include Bald eagle, beaver, whitetail deer and alligators. During late summer evenings , visitors to the Observation/Birding Tower can see wading birds, including Little Blue Herons and White Ibis coming to roost in the swamp. Additional wading birds and as well as swallows and shorebirds can be seen in the state fish hatchery ponds along the road as you exit the park.
Enjoy this special wetland park/preserve, and consider joining volunteers in working with the managing organizations to help maintain this special place.