MARY KATHRYN CARPENTER
As March raises its head over the winter horizon, you can almost hear the University of Alabama student body breathe a collective sigh of relief. Finally, after months of bundling up on the way to class and weekends spent on living room couches, students can trade the exile of their homes for outdoor retreat.
While Alabama springs are notoriously brief, there’s still time to savor its delightful spell before the humidity of summer engulfs the South. Hordes of students will heed warmer weather’s call, flocking in waves to the campus’ pavements, picnic tables, and the grassy Quad and replacing a barren landscape with a buzz of activity.
But why restrict yourself to the routine? With just a little bit of exploring – and maybe a trail map or two – you can uncover a frontier Tuscaloosa and forever allude the crippling effect of the winter past and paralyzing crowds, all without traveling 20 minutes from campus.
Tuscaloosa highlights several outdoor spots ideal for a Saturday afternoon escape. Located just off Watermelon Road, Lake Nicol and Lake Harris offer a quick day trip to parks and trails wedged between neighborhoods and tucked-away lakes.
Venture the other direction down US 82, and discover Lake Lurleen State Park. Its over 1500 acres boast hiking trails, fishing spots, and even swimming zones. The park collects fees on an honor system (3 for adults, $2 for kids) and invites visitors and their pets to spend the day exploring their own backyard.
If you’re a runner dulled by the day-to-day campus routes, Sokol Park and the beloved Riverwalk promise a workout with variety.
“I ran the Walt Disney World marathon in January, and training for 26 miles becomes difficult when you run the same streets every day,” said Lauren Mason, a sophomore Honors College student.
To conquer the running blues, Mason rediscovered Sokol Park during her freshman year, remembering the running paths from her high school cross-country days. While she says there’s nothing like a sunset run on the Riverwalk, she enjoys following the advice of her native Tuscaloosa friends and venturing out beyond the campus perimeters.
“I am an avid runner, so I like to add a little variety to my runs because running the same routes every day can become tedious and boring,” Mason said.
For the curious, UA’s Arboretum harbors an oasis tucked behind the old Alabama golf course. You’ll find eclectic flora collections scattered throughout the property in addition to several idyllic spots for wasting away an afternoon. The Arboretum also hosts the Tree Lab, a platform nestled high in the trees overlooking the space.
Commonly used for educational purposes, the Arboretum incorporates the University’s motto of “teaching, research, and service” with ample gardens, an amphitheater, wildflower collections, and a maze of trails speckled with sculptures throughout the property. The greenhouses offer an escape from lingering winter chill, boasting a variety of exotic plants and native species waiting out the cold in the controlled environment.
But you don’t have to be on school assignment to enjoy the space, according to the newly minted Arboretum Director and Alabama alum, Monica Watkins.
“I want to encourage people to come out here, bring their lunch or homework, and enjoy themselves,” Watkins said.
Especially in Alabama, we’re consistently reminded of our helplessness in regard to the weather. Take advantage of the shifting tides of spring and the opportunities outside the norm on your Saturdays before another cold snap pops up on the radar or the summer heat settles in for the long run.