Trail of the Month: March 2006
Chattahoochee Valley Railroad Trail, Alabama
A collective history of four small southern mill towns lingers in the air along the Chattahoochee Valley Railroad Trail. At the eastern border of Alabama, amongst gentle hills and the mighty Chattahoochee River, are nestled Shawmut, Langdale, Fairfax and River View—all towns listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The mills that gave rise to these towns, which housed and sustained their mill workers, were built just after the Civil War. Nearly 120 years later, in 1980, the towns incorporated to become the city of Valley, now a growing community of nearly 10,000 residents.
The CVRR, as is it known to some, begins in the village of Shawmut with quiet spans of straight trail running through tall pines and a few homes set back from the trail. If you ride the trail's full 7.5 miles by the time you reach the terminus in River View you will have had a taste of the local color including shops, town centers, and historical bridges and mills. You may have also decided to take a brief side trip off the trail to catch a stunning view of the wide Chattahoochee River.
When the Chattahoochee Valley Railroad stopped running in 1992, Valley's current mayor, Arnold Leak, then a council member, began exploring ways to reuse the railroad. "After several false starts," he says, "I became familiar with ISTEA grants. Working with the council and the public, I was able to gather enough support to acquire the rights-of-way and to apply for the grants to build the trail. To summarize
we built it!" The hope is now to have Valley become a gateway to the Chattahoochee nature trails. And the area certainly has a rich historical base upon which to build. Recently when two Rails-to-Trails Conservancy staff members were visiting Valley to survey the trail for inclusion in an RTC guidebook, two young trail-users proudly revealed what may be their town's worst kept secret. One of them announced, pointing to the old steal rails peaking out of a culvert, "You know there's a railroad under there!"