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Passing through: Dismals Canyon

Passports allow travelers access to communities and lands not their own and, by association, provide the opportunity to learn about the past, present and future of a specific area. The state of Alabama created the Alabama Bicentennial PastPort as part of the celebration of its 200th anniversary of statehood – an idea mirrored by the Franklin County and City of Russellville Bicentennial Committee in creating a Franklin County “Pastport.”

The committee, headed by Chris Ozbirn, selected 20 locations from around the county for people to visit and learn about. At each location, an employee will stamp and sign the Pastport as proof of that person’s visit.

Once each location has been visited and approved, the Pastport holder will turn in the Pastport to Ozbirn at the Franklin County Archives. At the end of the year, a winner for a special prize will be selected from those who complete the Pastport.

“We tried to pick locations that are historic or educational and show what we have to offer all over the county,” Ozbirn said.

One of the locations on the Pastport is the Dismals Canyon, near Phil Campbell. The Dismals is a National Natural Landmark, home to more than 350 different species of exotic flora, according to its website, as well as waterfalls and caverns. Artifacts found there have provided evidence of previous inhabitants of the area, like the Chickasaw and Cherokee Native Americans. Glowworms, locally known as Dismalites, inhabit the canyon and can be seen after twilight illuminating its walls.

“It’s a wonderful place with a gorgeous entrance,” Ozbirn said.

Canyon employee Kevin Cheek said he is pleased to have the Dismals on the Pastport because he believes this project encourages people to visit and see what the Dismals – and other destinations across the county – has to offer. He said he is passionate about the importance of the Dismals to the county and the state of Alabama.

“My favorite thing is the diversity. You can visit several times a year and see something different every time,” he said. “Even the night tour is different with every lunar cycle, and you never know what you are going to see. In the springtime you might see eels during the day and firefly larvae at night, along with Dismalites. The fauna changes all season too, bringing different sights and smells every time you visit.”

No night tours are available during the winter season, but cabin and group tours are available year-round by reservation except during the month of February. To check availability, call 205-993-4559.

“Passing through Dismals Canyon” is the first in a series in which the Franklin County Times will spotlight each location on the Franklin County Pastport. Please have your Pastport ready to travel throughout the county!