It’s that time of the year, again, when beach vacationers traveling on Interstate 65 stop for peaches in Clanton.
For nearly 40 years, the farm stand, restaurants, and gift shop at Peach Park have been prime destinations for travelers wanting to take a break with some peach ice cream, possibly buy a jar of peach butter to enjoy back home, and certainly pick up a basket of Chilton County’s much-loved fuzzy fruit.
Some of those freshly-picked, perfectly-ripe peaches will stay in the state. But a fair amount wind up in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana—states further north on I-65, which bisects Alabama.
Alabama’s peach season, which basically runs from May through Labor Day, is just starting to hit its peak. Over the summer, Peach Park will sell more than 70 varieties that ripen at different times, guaranteeing a steady supply.
More than two-thirds of the peaches grown in Alabama come from Chilton County. The 74-year-old annual Peach Festival—which includes a pageant, music, fun run, art, and parades—is set for June 19-26 in Clanton.
Like Durbin Farms, its older competitor across I-65 at Exit 205, Peach Park started as a farm stand. Gene and Frances Gray opened it in 1984 to sell fruit from their own orchards and become an outlet for other area fruit and vegetable farmers.
Frances created the recipe for the much-loved peach ice cream, which premiered in 1988. She still helps make the frozen treat, some of the 10,000 gallons per year produced at Peach Park.
The family-owned business now is run by a second generation, the founders’ son and daughter-in-law, Mark and Robin Gray.
Peach Park’s seven-acre footprint boasts a barbecue restaurant (“Peach Pit Bar-B-Que”), meat-and-three, bakery, clothing boutique, playground, gardens, RV park, rental space for events, and other amenities.
Peach Park is generally open from mid-February until Christmas, operating seven days a week.
But during the summer it’s famous in tourist guides as a one-stop shop for all things peach. Ice cream flavors include peach caramel and peach cheesecake, along with straight-up peach (it graces a frozen yogurt there, too). You can order a scoop to top a piece of the peach cobbler made in the bakery.
The bakery also uses peaches in bread and cakes, and to fill its legendary fried pies—one of the state Tourism Department’s “100 Dishes to Eat and Alabama.” You can buy jars of peach preserves to take home, or order some congealed peach salad to eat there.
Don’t forget to get snaps by the giant peach replica out back, a smaller cousin to the peach-shaped water towers that mark prime producing areas in the Southeast, including Chilton County (that water tower is off Exit 112 on I-65).
Of course, we Alabamians don’t need a beach trip as an excuse to drop in to Peach Park. But with Sunday the busiest day; a weekday is the best time to relax in a rocking chair on the porch at Peach Park, working on an ice-cream cone or fried pie, and then pick up a basket of fruit for home.