Trail of the Month: March 2004
Chief Ladiga Trail, Alabama
The Chief Ladiga Trail, Alabama's most ambitious rail-trail project, stretches nearly 33 miles through the countryside of Calhoun and Cleburne counties, connecting the communities of Anniston, Weaver, Jacksonville and Piedmont. Along the way, trail users are treated to views of beautiful wetlands, streams, forest, farmland and a horizon filled with the Talladega Mountains.
March is a particularly wonderful time to visit the Chief. Near the trail's eastern end, in Cleburne County, mountain laurel shrubs, with their distinctive and beautiful flowers, begin to cover the high banks of Terrapin Creek in early spring. And on the trail's western end, just south of Weaver, rows of pecan trees in Woodland Park are just beginning to come to life as spring arrives.
Beginning at its eastern end at the Alabama-Georgia state line and heading west through Cleburne County, the first 8.5 miles of the Chief are rugged, unpaved railroad bed. Trail users can only travel this section on foot, horseback or mountain bike. Cleburne County is in the process of paving this section. Federal funds have been acquired to pave the westernmost four-mile stretch and to rehabilitate four bridges. Another grant and matching local funds are still required to pave the easternmost four-mile section leading to the Alabama-Georgia state line.
The paved section of the trail begins approximately five miles east of Piedmont in western Cleburne County. Heading west from this point, the Chief Ladiga has a smooth asphalt surface for the next 24 miles through much of Calhoun County and on into Anniston. This stretch of the trail provides a direct connection to the campus of Jacksonville State University (JSU). The trail has a short gap where it intersects with the campus, but trail users can easily navigate their way through the JSU campus and pick up the Chief on the other side. The trail is a valued amenity to the JSU community; in fact, the university's Environmental Policy and Information Center assisted local jurisdictions with the development of the Chief.
Work began on the Chief in 1990 when Calhoun County and the city of Piedmont constructed the first 8.9 miles of the trail. Additional extensions to the trail have been made possible, in part, because of federal funding programs for trails and greenways, particularly the Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails Program, which are administered through the Federal Highway Administration.
Rail-trail fans will be happy to learn that the Chief Ladiga Trail utilizes the same abandoned rail corridor as Georgia's Silver Comet Trail. The Silver Comet Trail, Georgia's most extensive rail-trail project, runs 39 miles from Smyrna, Ga., to downtown Rockmart, Ga. By 2005, it is hoped that the rail-trails will connect at the Alabama-Georgia state line, providing trail users with a 90-mile corridor dedicated to non-motorized travel from just west of Atlanta, Ga., to Anniston, Ala.
While work is still underway to pave the eastern most section of the trail, residents and visitors can already take advantage of the hard work of the numerous jurisdictions that have made this trail a reality. As with other rail-trail projects, the Chief Ladiga Trail has spurred on a spirit of cooperation not often seen on transportation projects that pass through numerous communities. Public officials and residents of Anniston, Weaver, Jacksonville and Piedmont have all committed to working together to make the Chief Ladiga Trail one of the best rail-trails in the Southeast.