Celebrating in the Wundergarten: 10 treks through the Tree Museum


Whether you are moseying around the “mirror lake,” waddling with the ducks, rumbling with the train, power walking or pussyfooting, here are:


  1. YAPPY HOUR HIKE with your mutt, also your dog—Sportsman Lake Park has a doggone great “dog park” and it’s perfect for many dog owners and some dogs. Just last week, I read an eye-opening essay by Julie V. Iovine titled, “Dog Parks Are Great for People, Too Bad They’re Terrible for Dogs” (New York Times, Aug. 6, 2023). Hallmark Movies would have you believe “dog parks” are catnip for romance-seeking humans and their hounds, but many veterinarians report how stressed and anxious many dogs become confronted with a pack of strangers and alpha-barkers in a “dog park.” Mostly, YOUR DOG WANTS TO BE WITH YOU. You and your dog can enjoy all 168 acres of outdoor beauty at this FREE, public park, which is open 365 days a year, from sun-up to sun-down. Please be kind to others and keep your dogs on a leash and clean up after them. (Leave No Trace)

“My dog’s name is ‘5 Miles,’ so I can tell people I walk ‘5 Miles’ every day.”

“The best thing to get you to walk more has four legs and your whole heart.”

  • LEG STRETCHING LUMBERING I’m not as long-limbed as my friend, Jim Folsom, Jr., but I’ve enjoyed trying to keep up with him as he sauntered around the Sportsman Lake promenade. After some day trips, Jim would limber up around the peaceful pond. The Folsom family has some of the best storytellers in Alabama and a stretch-limo full of tall tales. On one loop around the lake, Jim, told how it was his dad, former Alabama Governor James “Big Jim” Folsom, who paved the way to create Sportsman Lake Park back in 1952. Mr. Big Jim’s Cullman friends wanted a closer place to enjoy fishing rather than driving to Lake Guntersville. When you’ve been too long on I-65 or the busy by-ways of Cullman County, stretch your legs at the Tree Museum like Ex-Governor James E. Folsom, Jr.
  • NATIVE WOODLANDS “ELDERS WALK” My paternal grandmother was Creek Indian. During President Jimmy Carter’s administration, I served on a National Committee for Minority Affairs and was in a period of my life where I was more connected to Native American traditions. Today, when I am at the Sportsman Lake Park Tree Museum, I feel closest to my Native American ancestors when I am in the woodlands on the western ridge of the “power line meadow.” As I hike the paths, I can imagine my Creek and Cherokee elders using similar routes for trade, communication, hunting and connecting their own “vision quest” with nature and with others. The sounds you hear are birdsong, woodland creatures adventuring through the underbrush and the relaxing sighs of yourself decompressing.

“The elders were wise. They knew that man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; they knew that lack of respect for growing, living things, soon led to lack of respect for humans, too.”—Chief Luther Standing Bear

  • BEGINNERS’ STROLL Park your vehicle near the “dog park” entrance which is open 365 days a year. Take your own sweet time as you loop through the tall trees to the east below the dam. This is a smooth, paved walkway with no hills.
  • “POLLINATOR RISE with the BUTTERFLIES” PARADE From the entrance of the red arbor which welcomes you to the Tree Museum/Wildflower Garden, head up the rise to the sun-blessed meadow beneath the line of power poles. There is a steeper grade mountain bikers share with power walkers, and a lazier stretch for those meandering through the woods and meadow. Sportsman Lake Park is on the National Butterfly Trail thanks to all the nectar plants for butterflies and caterpillars. The “Pollinator Rise Meadow” adds to the pleasure for winged creatures and people who visit.
  • BIRD SANCTUARY to BIRD MARSH “BIRD WALK” In this “Celebrating in the Wundergarten” series last week, I wrote about an ever-curious resident of the “Tree Museum,” a Barred Owl constantly asking “Whooo?” “An Owl Called David Hockney” stays mostly in the “Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary” bog area across from the Wildflower Garden. As you circle this densely planted nature reserve, you’ll also hear Red-headed Woodpeckers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, hawks, doves, Carolina chickadees, swallows, mockingbirds, wrens, and finches. Then, for a second chorus of birdsong, head to the lakeside to enjoy Muscovy ducks, Canada geese, mallards, Snowy egrets and both Great Blue Herons and Little Blue Herons. Songbirds have inspired Mozart, and modern-day composers, and they will inspire you.
  • HOPE FROM THE UpSLOPE HIKE provides a bit more challenge up the hillsides around the “tree museum,” but once you reach the crest your outlook will be a positive one. Along this route, one can often find bits of painted rock motivation and stacked “cairns” left by fellow wanderers. You just might find a gilded, repurposed Altoids tin with a message of hope like these:

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”—Albert Einstein

“Hope is a renewable option: If you run out of it at the end of the day, you get to start over in the morning.”—Barbara Kingsolver

  • “SMOKEY THE BEAR” FORESTRY FITNESS HIKE Wind your way through the hardwoods and evergreens on the popular pathway of the tree museum to the station of the Alabama Forestry Service. We are grateful to our foresters and for this picture perfect, protected, public park. Here’s the chorus of the “Smokey the Bear” song for you to hum whilst you hike:

“Smokey the Bear, Smokey the Bear.

Prowlin’ and a growlin’, and a sniffin’ the air.

He can find a fire, before it starts to flame.

That’s why they call him Smokey,

That was how he got his name.”

  • FIVE MILE FITNESS HIKE This isn’t for Sunday strollers or lakeside lollygaggers. Park across from the “Tree Museum” entrance. Go through the red “Welcome Arbor” and over the little, red bridge. Follow the base of the sloping hill until you are near the “potting shed.” Then, cross over the walking bridge and back down with the “potting shed” near on your left. Take a left on the stone walk when you see the “Four Seasons Garden.” Cross the service road and see the Grandfather Pine at the “trail head.” Follow the trail with the “Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary” on your left and follow up the mountain. Come back down the hill to the sanctuary and turn right. Cross back over the service road and head on the path around the park and up the hills. Keep walking for 4 miles on the paths that circumscribe the entire park and lake. Eventually, you will return to your parked vehicle and starting place. Treat yourself to a soft serve ice cream at the concession stand. You deserve a sweet reward. (Note: The trails will be better marked soon, thanks to guidance from hiking expert, Jared Carter, who walked the Sportsman Lake Park trails with the Tree Museum Project Team just last week. Jared is the programs manager for Alabama’s Mountains, Rivers, and Valleys RC&D, based in Hartselle.)
  1. WINTER WONDERLAND HOLIDAY LIGHTS HIKE Plan to walk where you can gawk in child-like amazement at the Christmastime lights around the “Mirror Lake.” Time it for at least one December day near dusk to see the thousands of brilliant lights flicker on and the peaceful water as they double your holiday happiness.

“I’m making an evergreen Christmas decoration for the Sportsman Lake Tree Museum and weaving a $100 bill into it, so it will be—A-wreath-a Franklin.”

CELEBRATING IN THE WUNDERGARTEN Each week in this culinary storytelling series, we share a delish, Alabama-grown recipe. Here’s an easy, healthy, energizing treat to enjoy on THE 10 TERRIFIC TREKS THROUGH THE SPORTSMAN LAKE TREE MUSEUM.


(Source: kingarthurbaking.com)


  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned, rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 1/4 cup flax meal
  • 3 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup dried, Alabama peach
  • 1/4 cup Alabama pecans, chopped
  • 1 large, Cullman County egg white
  • 1/2 cup Cullman County bee honey
  • 1/2 cup Alabama peanut butter
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon


  1. Preheat the oven to 325F. Grease an 8” x 8” pan or line it with parchment.
  2. Toss together the oats, quinoa, flaxseed meal, chia seeds, dried peach, chopped pecans and egg white in a medium-mixing bowl until thoroughly combined.
  3. Warm the honey, peanut butter, salt and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring constantly until well blended. Don’t let it boil; just let it get warm and fluid enough to blend easily with the dry ingredients, 2-3 minutes.
  4. Pour the honey mixture over the dry ingredients and mix until everything is coated.
  5. Press the mixture into the prepared pan.
  6. Bake the bars for 23-25 minutes, or until the oats on the edges start to turn golden brown. Remove them from the oven and let them cool completely before serving.
  7. To serve, cut into squares.

(Baking tips: www.KingArthurBaking.com is a top-notch website for bakers whether you are a beginner or a county fair ribbon winner. For this “Chia Energy Bar” recipe, you can find a suggestion for reducing the amount of salt, and simple adjustments to delight vegan snackers.)


Find all columns in this series at www.cullmantribune.com/tag/celebrating-in-the-wundergarten.