By Andrew Edwards
Wilderness Park is a 26-plus acre area in the city limits of Prattville. While many locals are familiar with this area, as our populations grows, new residents may be unaware of the treasure that is a great daytime activity for families.
The park is located at 800 Upper Kingston in Prattville.
In this forest, a plant from China has overtaken and created a beautiful scenery unfamiliar to many southerners – bamboo.
The park is the end result of a long and difficult battle for its preservation. Throughout the years, the land has passed through the hands of many different individuals – with the bamboo growing and flourishing all the while.
Originally given to Joseph May in a land grant back in 1823, the land was then sold to Daniel Pratt in 1835. For the next century, the land was passed to various owners until it was bought by Prattville citizen Floyd Smith in 1940.
Smith had a love for exotic plants and decided that he would take it upon himself to plant bamboo all over the 26 acres of land. Smith acquired the bamboo shoots from a Washington Import, which were shipped to him through the mail. This was the beginning step to growing the beautiful bamboo forest that you see today.
For the next 20 years, the forest would continue to grow rapidly. Bamboo is, after all, one of the fastest growing plants on the planet.
“Some bamboo has been clocked surging skyward as fast as four feet in a 24-hour period. It’s an amazingly versatile, vital and beautiful plant,” says Prattville Parks and Recreations Director Kellie Cook.
The unique forest caught the attention of many people across the country. In the 1960s, the property fell into the hands of General William Butler, an Air University commander at Maxwell Airforce Base. Gen. Butler then allowed Morgan Smith, head of the USAF Survival Program, to use the property to simulate conditions in Vietnam.
“The forest was so dense and was like the conditions that troops would be surrounded by in Vietnam. Troops from all across the country would come to the park to be better prepared before they were deployed to Vietnam,” said Cook.
After the death of Mr. and Mrs. Butler, the land was sold and the 26 acres once again became available for purchase.
On November 5, 1977 the Spinners Club, a local women’s service organization, became interested in preserving the area after they conducted a tour of the forest. It was rumored during that time that the forest might be torn down for the building of subdivisions.
Through various fundraisers and a $2,000 donation from Prattville school children, the Spinners club had enough for a down payment and the Bank of Prattville loaned the remainder of the purchase price of $45,000. Ultimately, they were able to obtain the land on April 6, 1979.
In September of that same year, the City of Prattville bought the land from the Spinners Club and dedicated it as the first park of its type inside city limits in the United States.
For the next 40 years, the bamboo would continue to grow higher and higher, with some now towering up to 60 feet tall.
And it’s not just one type of bamboo that grows in the forest.
There’s the Fishpole Bamboo that fades to yellow with age when exposed to bright sunlight, the Henon Bamboo that has grayish green canes and are the most prevalent in the park, the Robert Young Bamboo that has bright yellow canes with random green stripes, and the Yellow Groove Bamboo which are green canes with a yellow stripe in longitudinal groove.
All of these different types of bamboo surround a half mile trail that has been built by the City of Prattville. The trail provides an excellent stroll for anyone who wants to view exotic greenery that they might not ever get a chance to see elsewhere.
“We encourage anyone to go to the park. We have a lot of people who call from out of town that ask for something unique to do in our area for a couple of hours. We typically tell people about the wilderness park because kids, parents, and older adults can all easily do it,” Cook said.
The Wilderness Park is open from dawn until dusk all year round, so there’s plenty of time to bring your family out and enjoy one of the most exotic attractions that the City of Prattville has to offer.