Running through the heart of the Talladega National Forest, the Chinnabee Silent Trail is considered one of Alabama’s most scenic hiking paths. It skirts the sparkling, rushing waters of Cheaha Creek where hikers can find cool comfort in several swimming holes along the way. On a six-mile out-and-back hike along the trail, you’ll also encounter the thundering Cheaha Falls and wood and stone walkway that provides a bird’s-eye view of Devil’s Den Gorge.
While the Chinnabee Silent Trail is known for its natural beauty, it’s also notable for its curious name. You might be wondering, what does it mean? A marker near the trailhead is inscribed with a dedication to the group that built the trail, a Boy Scout Troop from the Alabama School for the Deaf (ASD). But, that’s all we learn from the sign. There’s no additional info onsite that explains the history of the trail, which is actually a fascinating piece of Alabama’s past.
Meet Moran Colburn
The ASD was established in 1858 as part of the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind (AIDB). Since 1934, the ASD has made Scouting a vital part of its programming and used it to teach students valuable life lessons and an appreciation of the outdoors.
In 1962, the school’s Troop 29 began a new tradition of giving back to the community by assisting the U.S. Forest Service, volunteer trail builders, and fellow Scouts as they worked to create hiking paths. One of ASD’s first tasks was to help complete the 6.5-mile Odum Scout Trail, which takes hikers from the tumbling waters of High Falls along the eastern slopes of the Talladega National Forest to its intersection with the Pinhoti Trail.
Trail work held a special place in the heart of Master Moran Colburn, who began attending the ASD when he was 10 years old. Colburn had a deep love of the outdoors and became a member of Troop 29 where he eventually worked his way up the ranks to Eagle Scout and later became the troop’s Scout Master.
Known as a natural leader, Colburn didn’t let his deafness prevent him from achieving great things in life. He joined the school’s Silent Warriors football team and was an All American center in 1941. He went on to become the team’s coach and was even named Deaf Coach of the Year by the American Athletic Association.
As an adult, Colburn continued to work with Boy Scout Troop 29. While doing trail work in early 1970, Colburn came up with the idea for the troop to build its own trail instead of working on others. On April 11, 1973, Troop 29 reached an agreement with the U.S. Forest Service to begin work on a path that would connect Lake Chinnabee at the base of the state’s highest mountain, Cheaha, to the Odum Scout Trail.
Let the Building Begin
Work on the trail began immediately, with landscape architect Bobby Bledsoe and District Ranger Wallace Graham establishing the route of the trail. Armed with pickaxes and hoes, the boys started doing the hard work of cutting a 24-inch-wide hiking trail into the steep, sloping rocky mountainside. They dug out roots and helped build wooden walkways.
It took almost 80 Boy Scouts two years to complete three miles of the trail. But what a trail it was. The path was named for Creek Indian Chief Selocta Chinnabee, an ally of General Andrew Jackson during the Creek Indian Wars. Of course, the “Silent” part of the name pays homage to the Scouts that made the trail a reality.
The marker at the trailhead was placed in 1977 to honor Troop 29’s accomplishment. But the Scouts weren’t finished. Troop 29 continued to build and maintain five trails in the Talladega National Forest, including the Skyway Trail, which hikers use to create an 18-mile loop connecting the Pinhoti, Skyway, and Chinnabee Silent trails. When asked about the work in a 1991 article, the then 69-year old Colburn said, “We’ve worked on five trails, and it’s making me old!”
The remarkable work of Troop 29 to complete the Chinnabee Silent Trail did not go unnoticed. In addition to being honored with the trailhead marker, the Scouts have received awards from the Boy Scouts of America and the U.S. Forest Service. In 1989, Colburn traveled to Washington to receive the Take Pride in America award, which was presented by President George H.W. Bush.
Moran Colburn also received many accolades of his own, many from his Scouts and from the former principal of ASD who said, “Moran is a role model for our kids. He and his wife are a successful deaf couple. They have worked, they are professionals, they are respected in the community. That’s what Scouting is all about, men teaching young boys how to be outstanding citizens.”
Colburn passed away at the age of 91 in Talladega on May 11, 2012, but his legacy and those of the Boy Scouts of Troop 29 will live on forever in the mountains of the Talladega National Forest.
Written by Joe Cuhaj for Matcha in partnership with BCBS of AL and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.