In lieu of his own photo, Jones wanted to highlight the Langdale Mill project, which he hopes will boost the local economy and help preserve
the area's textile heritage.
Trail Voices: Jim Jones
"Trail Voices" highlights the work of rail-trail supporters around the country. Our interview subjects are anyone from high-level urban planners to local volunteers, and no contribution to the trails, hiking and bicycling movement is too big or too small—dedication comes in all sizes. We could never tell all the personal stories that make rail-trails a success, but we can share a few of the voices behind the movement.
For November, we spoke with Jim Jones, who was just elected to his third term on the City Council of Valley, Ala., and also serves as executive director of the nonprofit Valley Community Development Corporation. He grew up about 100 yards from the Chattahoochee Valley Railroad, which serviced the local textile industry and mill villages that grew up around it. The mills once employed more than 15,000 people in the area, Jones says, but there won't be any textile jobs left by the end of this year.
He's watched rail service end, the tracks get pulled up and the county face an unemployment rate of 1314 percent. But he's also watched the city redevelop the rail bed as the seven-mile Chattahoochee Valley Railroad Trail (CVRR).
Now he's helping Valley develop the rail-trail as an important source of economic growth for the community of about 9,200. One marquee project along the trail involves restoring and redeveloping the city's Langdale Mill complex as a major historical attraction and commercial site. Built after the Civil War during the southern textile revolution, the mill sits on the banks of the Chattahoochee River and covers 25 acres. Jones says the city wants to preserve the textile history that indelibly shaped so many communities in Alabama.
Today, Jones's office faces the CVRR, which he hopes can help revitalize the community and its heritage. During this interview he was sitting in Langdale Mill in one of the old mill managers' offices. "I'm looking out at the trail; there's actually a trestle right in front of my office, less than 50 yards away," Jones says.
What do you believe the CVRR offers Valley?
It is a very viable part of the community. A lot of people utilize our trail. It's a north-south trail, and it connects all the major points of interest in our city. The trail also really promotes a healthy community. It's a means of exercise, fitness and health, and there are other things that can be done that make it interesting for anyone visiting our city.
How did you get your start in city government?
It goes way back, probably in the mid-1980s. I was remodeling my house, an old mill home, and I was out on the front porch. The local code enforcer drove up and told me I needed a new building permit, and I said that was ridiculous and fussed about it. I wanted to go the city and do something about it, and I've now served on the city of Valley Planning Commission for over 25 years. It was just a natural progression, and in 2000 I was elected to City Council.
What current projects does the city have on the CVRR?
Two things in particular. Currently, the two miles at the north end of our trail are not technically connected to the five miles of the south end. There is a "break" in the trail at the intersection of Fob James Drive and Highway 29. The intersection is rather busy and dangerous and would have been too costly to tackle when the project was undertaken.
We worked with our local planning group to put together a Transportation Enhancements (TE) grant. Times being tough as they are, City Council did not approve this particular proposal. We have it in hand and will resubmit it again next year and we can make this a reality.
The second thing is that the city purchased Langdale Mill in 2004 as part of an economic development plan. It's probably 25 yards from the trail, and we are working on a mixed-use development of restaurants, art galleries, studios, commercial space, and a hotel and conference center on the site. When we first purchased the mill, we started thinking, how can we bring people to our front door? How can we make it a destination point? We will be creating jobs, but we are also looking at this as heritage tourism and historical preservation. This Langdale Mill project will really enhance our trail.
What does the Langdale Mill site look like now?
The mill itself was built in 1866 and still has a lot of the old red brick and original structures. At one time, water was actually diverted up under the mill to turn the gears, belts and pulleys. The equipment literally ran off of the water. Over the years, they built a dam out back and the powerhouse is still generating electricity today
Who else is the city working with on the Langdale proposal?
We really have found a good partner in Auburn University. They're extremely excited about working on it with us. They have a second-year MBA class that's taking a look at our Phase I of development [to evaluate] revenues that will be generated, costs needed to build out the site, and what we can expect in the way of traffic on-site. They have 12 students broken up into three team groups, and in December, we'll sit on a panel and judge their projects. They're having a real world experience that will help us with the work we're doing and our own business model.
If the project gets completed, how else do you see a revitalized Langdale Mill adding to Valley?
We are looking at building a community garden between the mill and the river on a four-acre patch of land. We'd like to grow food on that plot that can be used in our restaurants as part of a 'buy fresh, buy local' sustainability approach. Also, starting in 2009 we'll be starting a farmers market on the lot right in front of the Langdale Mill. It will literally touch the trail.
What other future trail developments would you like to see in Valley?
We can always use more in the way of signage and way-finding. We have received some grant money for markers along the trail, and we do have display boards put up for people who come through. But I would like to see more historical markers that as you're walking the trail you kind of get a feel for what was there through the years, to play into the historical and textile heritage component.
One other thing we are involved in is a grassroots effort to create a southern textile heritage corridor, which would stretch over 700 miles from Richmond, Va., to Montgomery, Ala., along I-85, and 100 miles on either side of the interstate. The Southern Textile Heritage Corridor would encompass five states and help preserve and enhance existing textile villages and mills. And if we could one day make it a National Heritage Trail, it would be the longest in the country.