Giant rock cliffs, towering trees and majestic waterfalls create a secluded hideaway in Franklin County that’s drawing tourists from as far as Washington state. Rock Bridge Equestrian Park – named for a 100-foot-tall natural bridge – opened in October.
Created by the town of Hodges, population 310, with help from a band of dedicated volunteers, the park invites horse riders and hikers to enjoy the beauty of the canyon. It features 27 miles of trails for novice and experienced horsemen and hikers. Even those who believed in the project were surprised at its quick success.
“We’ve exceeded all the predictions about what we could do here,” said Mike Franklin, who is park director and Hodges’ police chief. “We’ve been overwhelmed at the response. This week, we’ve booked reservations for people coming from as far away as New Mexico, Washington and Texas. We also get lots of riders from Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, and we have plenty of local riders who love coming here.”
An economic impact study conducted years ago revealed the park could provide an economic boost for the town. The project used local funds, government grants and lots of volunteers to help create the park.
“The town owned 160 acres directly behind city hall,” said Edward Crouch, who’s been Hodges’ mayor 26 years. “Several adjoining property owners gave easements to the city that allow horse riders and hikers to access their land from the park. We couldn’t have done it without their generosity. Now, we have trails through some of the most beautiful land you’ll ever see. It took a real community effort to get this all done. I’m so proud of our town and how it all came together.”
The town recently received proof the equestrian park is paying economic benefits to the community. Crouch said a Dollar General Store will be opening soon.
“That’s huge for a town like ours,” he said. “Having visitors coming here to camp and stay a few days has made it more attractive for a store to locate here.”
Future plans for the park include a riding arena that should be finished this spring, additional horse stalls, more trails and rental cabins.
Jane Williams, a retiree from nearby Hamilton, often trail rides with a half dozen women about her age. She said they regularly camp at Rock Bridge and travel to other trail locations around the Southeast. Williams was among nearly 40 riders who recently took to the trails on a chilly Saturday morning.
“I’ve been riding about 20 years,” she said. “When our group gets together, we’ll usually ride about four hours, sometimes six. We just love coming here. It is so beautiful, and the people are so friendly.”
James “Bud” Davidson, 79, has been riding horses most of his life and has traveled throughout the U.S. competing in endurance trail rides. He’s logged more than 8,000 miles on horseback, but his favorite place is still Hodges, just a few miles from his hometown of Vina.
“There’s not a prettier place in the world to ride than Rock Bridge Canyon,” he said. “I’ve seen lots of trails, and what’s here is special.”
The park offers full hookup campsites, primitive campsites, covered horse stalls, a bathhouse and pavilion. Riding and walking fees start at $10 per day. For reservations call (205) 935-3499 or visit Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park on Facebook.
For more photos of Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park, visit the Federation's Flickr page at http://bit.ly/1ftPtqL