Wetumpka: Land of Rumbling Waters
by Lori Quiller
Nestled in the heart of Elmore County and wrapped in the flowing waters of the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, Wetumpka holds many treasures often overlooked by visitors and passersby. But the city's small-town charm has caught the eye of movie-makers more than once. The Grass Harp, The Rosa Parks Story and Big Fish were all filmed here.
To see this picturesque city, take U.S. Highway 231 North or travel along Alabama Highway 14 East and cross over the historic Bibb Graves Bridge, built in 1931. This route will take you into the heart of downtown, where you can park your car and take a walking tour.
Wetumpka is a playground for those who love the outdoors.
Start your tour under the Bibb Graves Bridge on the west bank of the Coosa River and check out “The Old Calaboose,” the city’s first jail built in the early 1800s. Enjoy the view of the bridge, the Coosa River and the First Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1856. A footpath under the bridge provides a great vantage point to take photos of the famous arched bridge, especially in the fall when the leaves are changing. Follow the path along the river’s edge to Gold Star Park, where you can launch your boat and set out for an afternoon in search of your next big catch. The park is also the setting for Craterfest – an arts, crafts and family fun festival in April – and Christmas on the Coosa, which is held the second Saturday in December.
Water, Water, Everywhere
If you’re looking for water adventure, you’re going to love the Wetumpka area. The name Wetumpka is derived from the Creek words that mean “rumbling water.”
Just a short trip from downtown and along Company Street, you’ll find a cabin with a row of brightly colored canoes and kayaks lining the front porch. Coosa River Adventures (415 Company St.; 334-514-0279) is owned by Chris and Therese Carter, who have been paddling the Coosa since 1995.
Either rent or bring your own gear, and the Carters will help you begin your white-water adventure. The Coosa River is filled with Class II and III rapids, making it easily navigable by the novice paddler but with enough challenge for those more advanced on the water.
If white water is not quite your speed, explore Lake Martin and Lake Jordan. Numerous boat ramps around the lakes have spacious vehicle parking and don’t charge fees for ramp use. If you’re looking to rent your water equipment and supplies, check out these marinas: Anchor Bay Marina (2001 Castaway Island Rd., Eclectic; 334-857-2654), Bay Pines Marina (3455 Bay Pine Island Point, Jacksons Gap; 256-825-3556), Harbor Pointe Marina (397 Marina Point Rd., Dadeville; 888-652-1994) and Lakeside Marina (7361 Hwy. 49 S., Dadeville; 256-825-9286).
While you’re visiting Lake Martin, stop by Children’s Harbor at the Kowaliga Bridge on Highway 63, about 45 minutes outside of Wetumpka. This 66-acre campus, modeled after a New England seaside village and featuring a replica of the Plymouth Lighthouse, serves as a beacon of help for children with long-term serious illnesses and their families. Before leaving, stop by the thrift store at the edge of the entrance. Much like a flea market, you can sell and buy goods ranging from jewelry and artwork to outdoor furniture, books and everything in between. Proceeds support Children’s Harbor.
Where a Star Fell on Alabama
About 85 million years ago, a meteor blasted a crater 5 miles wide in the hills of Elmore County. Scientists believe the explosion was more than 175,000 times the energy of the nuclear bomb detonated at Hiroshima, Japan. The meteor event was one of the most significant natural disasters to ever happen in the state of Alabama. You can still see evidence of it today in the unusual rock formations peeking through the waters of the Coosa River.
The site, called the Wetumpka Impact Crater (408 S. Main St.; 334-567-5147), is recognized as one of the best preserved marine impact craters in the world.
The area has been studied since 1891 when a geologist noticed the unusual nature of rock formations that had been marked on geological maps as “structurally disturbed.” Around 1970, a survey team found rock layers turned in atypical directions within the hills east of Wetumpka, and in 1998, researchers found “shocked quartz,” a byproduct of pressures exerted during large explosions from meteors. They also found chemical traces of the fallen meteorite lodged in surrounding bedrock.
Stop at the gate to pay a small admission fee that helps keep the park open year-round. Drive inside to the Visitor’s Center, which is actually Graves House, originally located in Lowndes County and constructed between 1825 and 1830. This cottage has been completely restored and houses the park’s gift shop and museum. Remember to chat with the attendant about the park’s special events and points of note.
The partially restored Fort Toulouse is just to the right of Graves House. The smaller Native American village behind Graves House offers a peek into life in 18th-century Alabama. Nearby is the William Bartram Arboretum, an excellent nature trail that wanders through the park and is the perfect experience for hikers and bird watchers.
The park also offers camping facilities: Nearly 40 RV sites are available that include water and electric hookups, grills and picnic tables. Be sure to call for reservations.
Park events take place each month throughout the year. Annual happenings include Alabama Frontier Days, which draws the largest crowds and is held the first full weekend in November, and the smaller French and Indian War Encampment, held the third weekend in April. Both events are fun for the entire family.
Visit Wind Creek Casino & Hotel
If you’re looking for a different type of adventure, check out Wind Creek Casino & Hotel (100 River Oaks Dr.; 1-866-WIND-360). The expanded luxury facility is owned by the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, descendants of a segment of the original Creek Nation.
If you park using the parking deck or valet, upon entering you’ll find yourself in the central lobby flanked by a gift shop and hotel check-in. As you make your way to the gaming floor, you’ll notice the floor is spacious and the gaming machines are spaced widely enough apart that you can play at a comfortable distance from your neighbor.
The casino has several restaurants to choose from depending on what you’re craving. There’s the buffet (which also serves a champagne brunch every Saturday for only $14.99), a grill, a grill-to-go and Fire Steakhouse, if you’re in the mood for fine dining.
For more information on things to see and do in the Wetumpka area or for more lodging and dining options, contact the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce (110 E. Bridge St.; 334-567-4811).
Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson National Historic Site
Located just off Highway 231 only a few minutes from downtown Wetumpka is the national historic site(2521 W. Fort Toulouse Rd.; 334-567-3002) comprised of the French outpost of Fort Toulouse and the American fortress of Fort Jackson. Also within walking distance is a 1,000-year-old Native American mound that overlooks villages dating back as far as 2,000 years. History buffs will enjoy walking the grounds of Fort Toulouse/Fort Jackson as it represents the intersection of prehistoric and historic Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French soldiers, English and Scottish traders and American settlers.