Friday, November 21, 2014

Appreciating the Homewood Forest Preserve

On a flank of Shades Mountain near Homewood High School, there is a great wooded walk to be had at the Homewood Forest Preserve. It's a convenient place to catch some fall colors.
I included a hike at the Forest Preserve (along with an amble on the Shades Creek Greenway) in Five-Star Trails: Birmingham. One option for exploring the Preserve would be a work day scheduled for this Sunday (though the weather forecast makes it questionable that this will proceed). A schedule of future work days is below. Of course, you can go any time.
Especially now, since the trail just got better thanks to an Eagle Scout Project by Cade Fowler of Troop 95 in Homewood.
Fowler has installed signs for tree identification throughout the mountainside trail system. And its a thoroughly modern system of markings.
Bring your smart phone. The tree identification signs include a QR code, which allows you to pull up extensive information on the tree in question.  The sturdy and simplified signage system should avoid problems typically found in these sign systems, which often fade and fall down.
A walk through the guided course reminds us what a magnificent variety of tree species we have, even in this small plot of ground. I enjoyed this walk this week, making a quick escape from work and into the changing leaves. Thanks to Fowler, I may finally complete my education in tree ID.
This Sunday, the Homewood Environmental Commission has scheduled a work day for routine maintenance and invasive plant control on the Preserve. After the work, there will be a guided tour. (Don't expect it to proceed if it's pouring rain).
Volunteers are supposed meet in the eastern side parking lot of the Homewood High School.
Bring gloves, loppers and/or some sort of digging tool to help cut and remove invasive plants.
Dress appropriately.
Email Hans Paul for more info or call 807-7357
Work Days are from 2 to 4 pm on Sunday afternoons.

Planned dates of work days:

November 23, 2014

December 7, 2014

December 14, 2014

March 8, 2015

March 15, 2015

March 22, 2015

Monday, November 17, 2014

Five-Star Trails: Birmingham coming to Church Street Coffee & Books

Please come out to Crestline Village Wednesday night at 7 p.m. I'll be at Church Street Coffee & Books to sign Five-Star Trails: Birmingham and talk about the experience of writing it. I've been thinking about that as I've listened to the rain these last few days.

It's been so dry I've was worried I was going to be accused of faking all that visits to waterfalls since most had probably had ceased to exist. Now, they are back.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Red Mountain Park Hike This Sunday In Search of the Longleaf

Come out to Red Mountain Park at 2 p.m. Sunday for a Free Guided Nature Hike This Sunday!

(If it is pouring rain, we might have to cancel, but we go if it is just a drizzle).

This hike is going to be guided by Scot Duncan, a Birmingham-Southern professor and author of Southern Wonder: Alabama's Surprising Biodiversity. He is also a principal author of the TrekBirmingham website, which offers geological, biological, and cultural information about various outdoor destinations in the Birmingham area.

Duncan is going be guiding us on a quest to find the remnant populations of longleaf pine on the Red Mountain ridges. The story of the longleaf, Alabama's state tree, is a fascinating one, well told and illustrated in Longleaf, Far as the Eye Can See: A New Vision of North American's Richest Forest.

I'll be there to introduce Duncan, sell and sign books, and recommend hikes on which you can find longleaf.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Red Mountain Park's New Adventure Tower

TheThe zipIt doesn't get much cooler than the new 80 foot climbing town 
The new 80-foot-tall, Hugh Kaul Adventure Tower at Red Mountain Park is a sight to behold. And it's a blast to climb and take the zip down, airborne at 30 mph. Now open to the public. More information.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sip and Sign at Neighborhood Hops and Vine

Join me on Thursday, Nov. 13th at Neighborhood Hops and Vines in Crestline Park. From 5:30-7 p.m., I'll be signing copies of my book Five-Star Trails: Birmingham and the fine folks in the shop will be offering selected samplings from their eclectic and excellent selection of wine and beers. What's not to like about that?

Pass the word. Besiege the place. Next door to Saw's Juke Joint.

Home Page: Neighborhood Hops & Vine is a retail beer and wine shop located in the heart of Crestline Park. We offer a wide selection of estate and small production wines, craft beer & draft beer to go.

E.O. Wilson on the Boy Scout Handbook A Manual for Life

E .O. Wilson is one of the world's foremost biological scientists. He grew up in Alabama and visits the state often. In this past Sunday's New York Times Book Review he penned a tribute to the lasting influence the Boy Scouts of America and its Handbook for Boys had on him.

It may have taken its knocks from the right and the left of late, but I agree with Wilson. It's a force for good. Having spent the past year hiking trails in Central Alabama, I can tell you those trails wouldn't be nearly as appealing without the bridges, kiosks, steps, and platforms built by Scouts. And that's only the self-evident traces that the Scouts leave.


"A Manual for Life - I’m well aware that to many, the Boy Scouts seem unsophisticated and outdated. But I ask doubters at least to consider this: If asked to decide who would be both successful in life and exceptionally useful to society, the graduating senior of an elite New England prep school or an Eagle Scout in Kansas, I’d vote for the Eagle Scout."

The New Yorker returns to look again at Alabama's criminal Justice System

This piece centers on judicial override, the practice of allowing judges rather than juries to have the final say over which defendants get the death penalty.

In Alabama, Judges Play God: Currently, Florida and Delaware are the only other states with override, but their judges use the provision very sparingly, and when they do it’s almost always to convert death sentences to life. Nobody in Delaware is on death row because of override, and it has been fifteen years since a Florida judge has exercised override to impose the death penalty. In thirty-one of the past thirty-two years, Alabama’s judges have condemned someone to death through override at least once.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Want to go hiking? New book highlights the best places in Central Alabama |

Five Star Trails: Birmingham featured on blog: Joe's Outdoor Office.

Want to go hiking? New book highlights the best places in Central Alabama |

Joe is one the state's best outdoor photographers and writers and when I worked at The Birmingham News we collaborated on many great outdoor expeditions. Explore other posts by Joe at

Friday, October 31, 2014

Book availability and signings

My new book is available online through Menasha Ridge Press which is the most immediate way to get it, other than getting it straight from me. I have plenty in my car trunk. Call or stop by. Little Professor in Homewood should have it in stock by Sunday, Nov. 9.  You can also order from other online retailers like Amazon and Books-A-Million.

A limited number of books are currently in stock at Vulcan Park.
Supplies should be arriving at other bookstores and outfitters soon.

Copies will be available November 1 & 2 - Moss Rock Festival
I plan to be at Moss Rock Festival Sunday afternoon from 1 to 3:30 at the Fresh Air Family Tent. The Festival is held at The Preserve, near the Boulder Fields trailhead of Moss Rock Preserve. Several hikes at Moss Rock Preserve are in the book, and it should be a great weekend for exploring one of the regions best and most convenient hiking destinations.

Sunday, November 9 - Little Professor book signing - 12-2 p.m.
Come out for Sunday brunch and pick up a copy

Thursday, November 13 - Sip and Sign at Neighborhood Hops and Vine, you friendly neighborhood wine and beer shop, located in the Crestline Park neighborhood, 1109 Dunston Avenue, Birmingham, AL 35213. 5:30 - 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, November 16 - Red Mountain Park
Friends of Red Mountain Park hike - 2 p.m. Will be helping lead a hike featuring Scot Duncan, Birmingham-Southern biology professor. Duncan will lead an expedition seeking out the remnant stands of longleaf pines in the park. Scot was extremely helpful in helping me with the book. He is the primary author of the TrekBirmingham website and of the fabulous book, Southern Wonder: Alabama's Surprising Biodoversity.

November 19 - Church Street Coffee and Books 
Book signing and conversation - 7 p.m.

Reviving A Southern Industry, From Cotton Field To Clothing Rack : NPR

From NPR: A story about cool Alabama Farm to Closet clothing experiment.

Reviving A Southern Industry, From Cotton Field To Clothing Rack : NPR: Keeping Cotton Local

Hanback is one of about 30 people who work at The Factory, home to Alabama Chanin, the fashion and lifestyle company founded by Natalie Chanin. The site includes a cafe, workshop and the company's flagship store.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

My first book

It's Here!

Five-Star Trails Birmingham

by Thomas Spencer

Five-Star Trails Birmingham
by Thomas Spencer
Menasha Ridge Press

Connect with
Menasha Ridge Press:

Hi, friends:

Over the last year, I've been working with Menasha Ridge Press to author my first book, Five-Star Trails Birminghama guide to the best hiking trails in the city and surrounding region. I'm excited to say I just got word from the publisher that the guidebook has shipped from the printer and is on its way to bookshops and outfitters.
The hikes described in Five-Star Trails: Birmingham cover the major hiking venues in the central city and suburbs as well as exploring diverse offerings from Appalachian mountain climbs to strolls on the banks of the Cahaba River as it broadens to snake through the Coastal Plain. You can visit old growth forest in the Sipsey Wilderness or hike down into the “Grand Canyon of the East” at Little River Canyon. And that's only the start. Across this landscape, you’ll find a level of diversity of plant and animal species, some rare and endangered, that rivals anywhere in the North America.

- Thomas Spencer

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

36-year-old Alabama Red Hills salamander discovered at the Cincinnati Zoo |

Ben Raines story on Red Hills Salamander at the Cincinati Zoo: 36-year-old Alabama Red Hills salamander discovered at the Cincinnati Zoo | Captive salamanders tend to live longer than their wild counterparts, with reports of a number of 25-year-old specimens of various species. But a 36-year-old salamander? That's got the amphibian experts excited.

"That is awesome that salamander is still alive," said J.J. Apodaca, one of a small handful of scientists specializing in the endangered Red Hills salamander, Phaeognathus hubrichti, which is one of the rarest creatures in Alabama, and the nation.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A First Visit to Remy's Dog Park at Red Mountain Park

I didn't get the dog park thing.
Now, I do.
When I was growing up, dogs roamed.
As parents, my wife and I resisted the idea of a dog, despite the begging of the children. I couldn't abide the modern suburban existence of a dog: only getting out to walk on the leash under the hand of the master, the master reduced to picking up poop and fretting whenever the dog escaped confinement.
 But we finally broke down and got a wonderful affectionate, older dog. The drawbacks are there but are outweighed by unmitigated affection Pa-Ching brings to the family.
Still, I find the leash walking thing unsatisfying. I want him to be free. And I don't want my arm jerked out of socket.
So, on a recent Saturday we packed up to make our first visit to Remy's Dog Park at Red Mountain Park, a large, fenced, off-leash park which offers both open sunny space and shady woods. No leash, no worries, full-stride running, and unmediated dog socialization.
It was liberating. For me, my son, and our dog.
I now get the dog park thing.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Rolling on the Chief Ladiga Trail

My son James and I recently biked and camp on the Chief Ladiga Trail from Piedmont to Cedartown, Ga. It's one of the prettiest sectoins of the the paved rail-trail (also known as the Silver Comet) which runs 100 miles from Anniston to the outskirts of Atlanta. It was a beautiful ride and the scenery only going to get better as the leaves change in the coming weeks. It's a gentle grade, generally uphill to the state line and downhill to Cedartown. But no matter how gentle the grade, 50 miles is a tough ride for the uninitiated. But James pumped the whole way, without complaint. To find out more, check out Chief Ladiga Trail information here and Georgia's trail website for the Silver Comet.