Out and About

The Great Alabama 650

My out and about travels led me to Gadsden this month for an Alabama Scenic River Trail (ASRT) presentation about The Great Alabama 650 – a 650-mile paddling race from north Alabama to the Gulf of Mexico. I was very impressed.

What is the Alabama Scenic River Trail?

The original 650-mile Scenic River Trail was established in 2008 and is the longest river trail in the United States that is located in one state. Alabama has it! The idea to create it was the dream of Anniston jeweler and canoe paddler Fred Couch. Fred put a team together to form the ASRT 501(c)3 association in 2007. ASRT did not stop with the 650-mile trail, but has helped add an additional 4,400 miles of waterways in various parts of the state to the system. These river trails are promoted by various tourism associations and national paddler publications. Alabama is fast becoming a river adventure destination by paddlers of all skill levels as well as motor boaters who want to travel some of Alabama’s 132,000 miles of navigable waterways.

What is the Great Alabama 650?

The 650-mile race starts Saturday, Sept. 14, on Weiss Lake and ends at Fort Morgan on the Gulf of Mexico (info@al650.com). The racers have to portage six hydroelectric dams and three corps of engineer levees. The first to finish in the three categories – male solo, female solo, and tandem team – wins an equal share of the $22,500 prize. Each racer has 10 days to finish the race before being disqualified. Currently, the fastest time on the river trail is 12 days and 2 hours. The winners are expected to finish in five and one-half to seven and one-half days depending on the category. Each racer will have a “spot tracker” so he/ she can be located at any point in time during the race. You can track the racers by going to www.alabamascenicrivertrail.com.

The Alabama race has received worldwide attention and is expected to become an annual event. On a recent ASRT trip to Alaska to learn about the Yukon 1000 Canoe and Kayak Race from Canada to the Alaskan back country, it was confirmed the adventure racing community is well aware of the Great Alabama 650 and the enticing purse. Most of the racers currently registered are from out of state.

Alabama is well on her way to being known as a destination for vacation boating. The ASRT is doing its best to “enhance community development in the area of recreation and tourism.” Ten years ago there were eight outfitters in Alabama. Today there are 50. Blount County can be a part of this movement. ASRT has an idea to help sponsor smaller races in all 10 of the ASRT Districts in Alabama. We have the rivers and a world of ecological potential. Can you say “Blount County Ecotourism?”