Ghosts and Goats: Spectre at Jackson Lake Island

By on 9 March, 2018 in Amanda Burbank, Fun with 0 Comments

Photo by Scott Burbank

Strangely in my many years of enjoying local nature, I have, until now, neglected to visit a great treasure just a few minutes outside of Montgomery.

I’ve enjoyed the great outdoors from simple playgrounds, to many of our local formal trails, to picking mulberries through a backyard that had hidden access to a spillway. I’ve spent some of my favorite days picnicking and forest bathing. I love strolling through parks and finding cosy spots beside lakes, under trees or in sunny fields. I wander nature trails noting mushrooms and wildflowers and listening to birds at play. I want to tell you about a hundred different lovely days and how I spent them: rope swinging in Corn Creek in Wetumpka, fossil hunting on Catoma Creek in Southwest Montgomery, kayaking and lazily floating in a still part of the river near downtown Prattville, attending free concerts on Sunday afternoons at Cloverdale Park. The list could go on and on, but those would be different blogs.

Last weekend, for the first time, I visited a new favorite place. Jackson Lake Island in Millbrook is known for being the location where Tim Burton filmed the town of Spectre in Big Fish. Much of the set still exists on the island and visitors can wander through the ghost town, which is a fascinating bit of film history. The iconic shoes are strung up at the entrance to the town. The houses themselves were built to look new for the 2003 film and then artificially distressed for the scene where Ewan McGregor returns to find the town abandoned. The structures are shells of houses that have been falling into genuine disrepair over the last 15 years. There are warnings that they are not safe, but visitors have clearly risked rickety porches to trace their initials in dusty windows.

At the end of the row of houses is the town church, clearly the focal point standing out tall and eerily still white, compared to the other chipped and greying exteriors. It is the only building with an interior, but other charms of the island distracted us from looking inside. Instead of testing the steps that led up to the double doors and checking to see if the church was locked, we were delightedly chasing the herd of goats that roams the island who were stampeding the church and then playing in the significant crawlspace underneath it.

The late afternoon sun was low and shining through the Spanish moss that trailed down from the trees surrounding the buildings of Spectre, a ghostly illumination for the picturesque scene. In the center of the island the trees grew thicker until there was almost a tiny forest adding a sense of mystery and depth to the terrain. The perimeter of the island looked out into the glistening lake where we saw birds nesting and people at play. A vast grassy field filled with tiny wild violets and false garlic blossoms was a perfect place for spreading a blanket and reading in the sunshine. I noted unusual grassy mounds; one had a inexplicable stack of firewood beside it. These vibrant green mounds made me curious and happy; they seemed like something from a fairy tale.

Later during the day the goat herd made its way to the mounds to play King of the Hill. They balanced on (and gracelessly tumbled off) nearby fallen logs, and munched on the flowering weeds. My very favorite moment was when one little brown spotted goat that I was petting suddenly started bleating “Mah! Mah!” It then raced off to a slightly bigger goat who looked just like it. The baby had seen its mother and eagerly ran to snuggle up to her. There were many nanny goats and their kids in the healthy herd. The goats were friendly without being pushy and I could have followed them around all day, laughing at their playfulness and scratching behind their ears.

That Saturday there were many other people enjoying the island, but it is sizable and didn’t feel crowded. Scouting for a future event, we noted numerous very large permanent tables that would suit for big picnic spreads and accessible restrooms. In the few hours we were there we observed people camping, fishing, boating, kayaking, riding bikes, painting landscapes, doing a photo shoot, playing with the goats, and simply relishing a beautiful day in a beautiful place as we were.

The island was only a few minutes away from Midtown. It is open daily. The bridge to the privately-owned island is blocked with a gate, but phone numbers are posted to call for the gate code. The cost for the entire day is $3.00 per person. Children 2 years old and under are free. Camping overnight is $10.00 per person per night and $5.00 for children 10 years old and younger.

Amanda Burbank is an observer, savorer, poet, artist, mother, wife, and lover of beauty and life. Unexpected events found her family living nestled in the deep south woods within a family home built by her great grandfather. From there, she works as a freelance writer and photographer. Her heart is to live a life of acceptance and perhaps help others to see beauty in the unlikely through well crafted words and photographs of lovely ordinary everyday moments.

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