The Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail will hold an official launch at the Mountain Center in Heflin, Ala., on December 1, 2012. The Mountain Center is located at 6751 Hwy 78 in Cleburne County. This event will be led by Jacksonville State University, Cleburne County representatives, as well as local officials and civic leaders. The nine counties that make up the trail are Blount, Calhoun, Cherokee, Cleburne, Etowah, Jefferson, St. Clair, Shelby and Talladega. Three years in development, the Appalachian Highlands Birding Trail features 38 approved sites covering an area of over 4 million acres.

Several activities will take place on December 1 beginning at 10 a.m. including a Birdwatching for Beginners program, exhibits on Cheaha State Park and the Mountain Longleaf Wildlife Refuge, music from guitarist Joshua Turner and several learning stations on birds. The official opening ceremony will take place at 1:30 p.m. Events and vending are scheduled until 3 p.m.

The trail will be marked with directional signs and there will be interpretative signs at many sites featuring an overall trail map and information on the types of birds most commonly spotted at that site. There will be “gateway” sites (visitor centers) in several counties with trail maps and information pertinent to that county. When completed, will offer detailed information about all of Alabama’s eight birding trails.

This birding trail is not only a valuable means of attracting more visitors to Alabama, it is also a great educational resource for students and an opportunity for inexpensive family outings. Schools can use the trail sites for field trips and families can visit on weekends or holidays. Alabama has one of the most diverse habitats in the Southeast, with a tremendous range of birds that can be seen in the state and on the Appalachian Birding Trail.

The Alabama Birding Trails Project is funded by the Alabama Tourism Department, with technical assistance from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Birmingham Audubon Society, The Alabama Ornithological Society and local leaders within each region. The University of Alabama Center for Economic Development (UCED) is providing project management and oversight.