Alabama congregation blazes nature trail on church property as a gift to its community

By David Paulsen
Posted Jul 11, 2023

A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned for late September for the trail being developed by St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Chelsea, Alabama, though walkers already can stroll the first phase of the path. Photo: Chris Stricklin

[Episcopal News Service] Serving the community is a walk in the woods at St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Chelsea, Alabama, southeast of Birmingham.

The congregation is developing a nature trail on church property that will be open to the public and eventually will stretch one mile, possibly connecting to other municipal trails in Chelsea. Members of St. Catherine’s participated in a volunteer workday on July 8, and the first phase of the trail, which passes alongside a creek, is now open to anyone looking to embark on a tranquil stroll.

The idea was raised earlier this year during one of the monthly men’s breakfast events at St. Catherine’s, and now “the entire church is behind it,” Chris Stricklin, one of the lead volunteers, told Episcopal News Service. “Everybody is contributing in some way to these efforts.”

The church is located on about 20 acres of land straddling Kings Home Drive. The church building is on the north side of the road, and volunteers cut the first segment of the trail through the land on the south side of the road, following a route that originally was developed years ago as a Boy Scouts Eagle project but had since become overgrown.

In the first phases of the church’s nature trail, volunteers cut trees and brush to re-establish that half-mile path. “We have a beautiful creek that runs down that side of the property across the street,” Stricklin explained. They also created a roadside parking lot, paved with recycled asphalt. A future phase will extend the trail north of the road so it loops through additional woods and ends up back at the church. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for late September.


Volunteers participate July 8 in a workday organized by St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church in Chelsea, Alabama, for the congregation’s nature trail. Photo: Chris Stricklin

July 8 was the congregation’s third workday on the trail, an “incredible day of work,” Stricklin said. Volunteers delineated the borders of the path by laying down timbers and smoothing the walking surface. Benches are in place. The congregation also plans to install signs identifying trees along the trail, as well as Bible verses. The project so far has relied on donations of labor and materials.

Stricklin said the congregation was partly motivated by statistics showing that Chelsea, with a population of 16,000, does not have as many miles of walking trails as recommended for a city its size. “We have to serve not only our own members but the community,” he said.

And the community has already responded. Aside from some local news reports, the congregation hasn’t actively promoted the trail, yet Stricklin said after a recent Sunday service at St. Catherine’s, he walked out of the church and spotted a woman with a walking stick and a dog at her feet about to venture down the path.

“That tells me there’s a need in our community for it,” he said.

– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at