Story and Photography By: Anna-Claire Gibson and Dustin Shrader.
Video By: Gabby Ware and Daniel Kosmala.
Llyod McKhemy stood looking at a mess of tangled, overgrown brush and woods, full of excitement as he spoke about his most recent plan to create something out of nothing. To the normal eye all that remains of an old steam press is an open space of grass, but to McKhemy there is potential for a community greenhouse and beautiful landscaping. That’s how the entire Yoholo Micco Creek Indian trail in Eufaula, Alabama has appeared to McKhemy ever since the city decided to participate in the Rails to Trails program and convert an old railroad line into a community friendly walking trail surrounded by the history of the city.
Beginning in the 1800s, as McKhemy describes it, “the railroad was a lot of the life of Eufaula, it actually probably was one of the primary reasons why Eufaula grew as it did.” Nine railroads all connected at the site of the current Yoholo Micco trail and from there they connected Eufaula to the entire Southeast. Eventually, however, the railroads all stopped running into this depot, and from the 1960s on the area was demolished and allowed to grow wild. This natural state of overgrowth is what McKhemy found when he began his work to transform the trail into what it is today. As he recalls when he decided “to take it on myself to get down there and just cut a few of the trees down and try to clear up a little bit of that,” and clear things up he did.
From the beginning of the trail it’s obvious something special has happened here. The sign welcomes you to the Yoholo Micco trail, named for the Creek Indians that once lived all over this area. Some say Chief Eufaula is the namesake of the town, but no one seems to know for sure, it’s just another mystery waiting to be dug up on this trail. The first thing to catch the eye is an unassuming red structure with a round rusted plaque on it reading “Railcar Weigh Station.” A century and a half year old train weight laid completely hidden beneath kudzu and overgrowth before McKhemy uncovered it, completely by chance. After beginning to cut back the brush he realized what he had stumbled upon, and because he was curious, people on the trail can now see first hand how a train scale worked. When rounding the back of the building, coming towards the trail, it’s impossible to miss the next breathtaking feature: the waterfall trail.
Down a steep hill lined with railroad ties used as steps, the sound of running water starts to make its way to the ears. As you begin the descent from the picnic-table-filled Tree Hugger Park to the waterfall it’s hard to imagine what it used to look like. “It was a pile of railroad ties, garbage, trash, tires, everything that was just piled up there like a dump…The railroad just piled it up there,” but now it’s easy to forget the history and get lost in the beauty of the natural waterfall. After taking in the surroundings, an astute eye would notice a pile of bricks tangled in the trees opposite the creek. There was a public pool in downtown Eufaula for whites only, but McKhemy describes how back here “a black lady had that pool built …for the African-Americans.” The structure has deteriorated but it remains as another piece of valuable history uncovered by McKhemy in this project.
Down the trail a little farther, off the paved path, protected behind an old wire fence lies one of the most sacred pieces of history on the trail. Headstones tower into the sky and the air seems to become more peaceful as the Jewish section of the Fairview Cemetery presents itself. Walking on the blessed ground it’s impossible not to notice headstones marked in Hebrew remembering immigrants born in Bavaria in 1832 mixed with unreadable monuments to the memories of lost loved ones. It is the most breathtaking view: the lake shines behind the hill and the Jewish Wall on the far side of the grounds seems to be protecting the graves. The trees provide a cooling shade and the wildlife seems at rest in this place. Words aren’t needed here, but rather everything is self-explanatory as the beauty and serenity overwhelms.
Winding us back down the trail towards the lake McKhemy begins to open up more about his involvement with the trail. It’s apparent that he has put his heart into making this trail what it is today, and as he leads us around the lake we learn he is happiest when he sees others enjoying the trail. He is proudest when he can look back and say, “I helped develop that trail,” and everyone agrees, “this has been a joint effort on a lot of people’s part…we just kind of take it in steps.” In the beginning, the trail began with only a couple of people walking it, but now it has grown to hundreds walking it every day. Even the mayor has proudly boasted this is, “one of the greatest things to happen to Eufaula in years.” The trail is a true story of devotion, love and aspiration for the community of Eufaula.
This story produced with the support of
The Historic Chattahoochee Commission