In the Deep South, Excitement Building Behind New Rail-Trail Project
Today's edition of the Andalusia Star News in southern Alabama carries a story about significant progress on a project to convert 42.9 miles of out-of-service CSX railway lines in Covington, Coffee and Geneva counties into a recreational trail.
The tracks throughout the section were removed earlier this year, and, according to Alabama Trails Commission (ATC) Chairperson Debbie Quinn, a number of grant applications to fund land purchase and trail construction have been filed.
According to the Andalusia Star, the ATC has filed a notice on behalf of the three counties asking the federal government to grant interim trail use for the property.
Quinn says that CSX "is in agreement with us to work on moving forward with the rail trail," that would connect the cities of Andalusia and Geneva. The next step is for CSX to come back to the ATC with a valuation of the property.
"We'd love to see the project under way--and this is a very conservative estimate--in a year," Quinn told the newspaper. "We feel it is such a unique opportunity for this region of the state to obtain this corridor for a rail-trail, but it's also a great asset to the state and the region for tourism."
Alabamans have an excellent example of the recreational and economic opportunities of rail-trails in their own 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail (above). Along with the Silver Comet Trail, with which it connects at the Georgia border, the Chief Ladiga is a member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy's Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, and is the state's most prominent trail asset.
Quinn has been an important figure in the growth of trails advocacy in Alabama in recent years. In 2010 the city of Fairhope Councilor was appointed to lead the newly created Alabama Trails Commission. Alabama lawmakers overwhelming passed HB 376 and SB 258, sponsored by Rep. Cam Ward, (R-Alabaster), and Sen. Wendell Mitchell, (D-Luverne), creating the Alabama Trails Commission with the express mission "to advance development, interconnection and use of cultural, historic and recreational lands and water trails."
In addition to the Alabama Trails Commission Advisory Board, the legislation also established a tax-deductible nonprofit foundation to advance the trail commission's goals by fundraising and supporting recreation in education.
In 2011 Alabama held its first-ever statewide trails conference. During that groundbreaking event, the keynote speaker, Alabama Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, gave a ringing endorsement of the role that trail development should play in contributing to the state's future.
"We must promote the many recreational venues we have in this state," Ivey said. "Ecotourism has the potential to economically jump-start many rural areas of Alabama."