Ruthie Thompson describes Buck's Pocket State Park on Alabama's Sand Mountain as a rugged, lonely place.
"You have to drive down the side of the gorge on a rough gravel road, then ford a stream to get into the park. It is woefully neglected, but the park overlooks contain some of the best knee-wobbling views I've ever seen in the region," says Thompson, communications and outreach manager for Thrive Regional Partnership, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote responsible growth throughout Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee communities.
In 2017, Thrive launched the Thrive Bucket List Challenge, an initiative designed to get more people to explore the region's most unique natural treasures. In the three years leading up to the challenge, the organization collaborated with 35 local stakeholders — farmers, educators, conservationists and outdoor recreation professionals, for example — to compile the bucket list: 46 must-see places spanning three states, 16 counties and 6,648 square miles.
Each place fits into one of four categories: outdoor recreation; working farms or forests; cultural resources; or biodiversity and natural resources — which includes Buck's Pocket State Park, No. 34 on the Thrive Bucket List.
Upon its completion, the project, which includes an interactive map, was named "A Watershed Moment."
"We are at a watershed moment in our region," Thompson says. "This watershed is one of the most biologically diverse on the planet. If we don't start taking action now on how we want to grow, 30 years down the road we'll wake up saying, 'What did we do?!' Our hope is that by exploring [these places], people will understand their value and work to protect them."
Ready to see the spots highlighted in the Thrive Bucket List Challenge? Browse the photo gallery above.
(All images and descriptions courtesy of Thrive Regional Partnership.)