Last weekend’s Creek Fest was the latest step in the reclaiming of Three Mile Creek as one of Mobile’s natural resources. The process, which has been studied for more than two decades, continues to gain momentum.
A major announcement came on April 21, when the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Park Service awarded $3 million to assist eight American cities in constructing and enhancing parks in disadvantaged neighborhoods. Mobile officials received $386,525 to “transform Three Mile Creek from a degraded urban stormwater conveyance into a community asset that will connect diverse neighborhoods and provide new recreation opportunities.”
The grant will support the initial construction of a 12-mile greenway system in areas with limited outdoor resources. Also planned is a .75-mile multi-use trail segment that will include a fitness circuit/parcourse, lighting, benches and education/interpretive signs.
“This will be huge for Mobile,” said Nigel Roberts, senior director of community and housing development for the city. “I am not sure how long it will take to do the entire 12 miles, but this is a great start.”
The number of partners in the massive project is quite extensive. The Mobile Bay National Estuary Program has released a proposition (www.mobilebaynep.com/three-mile-creek) for the course that would stretch from the University of South Alabama to the Mobile River. Almost two dozen stakeholders are listed in that report, including the Mobile Housing Board.
“I’ve been with the city for a year and a half, so I started right into this project,” Roberts said. “My primary role is to revitalize the community, and Three Mile Creek was a great asset that could start this.
“What helped to get things started was the Mobile Housing Board getting a grant to assist in the transformation of Roger Williams Homes and that entire community. It runs along the creek, and was a good focal point.”
Then the MLK Avenue Redevelopment Corporation received a community block grant. This helped to place sidewalks along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, the Toulminville area and Figures Park.
These are all parts of the plan that has become known as the Mobile Greenway Initiative. The goal is to establish an interconnected Mobile greenway and blueway: a system of bike, walking, and canoe and kayak paths that link neighborhoods, communities and parks. The trail system will be branded with one logo and one name.
Adventure begins in West Mobile
The initiative is split into three sections. Participants will start their journey at Langan Park.
“Langan Park is a tremendous asset that becomes even greater when connected to Three Mile Creek and the Crepe Myrtle Trail,” said Chris Lee, the executive director of the J.L. Bedsole Foundation. He is serving as co-chairman of the Langan Park Steering Committee with attorney Bradley Sanders.
“There have been 17 plans to do something with Three Mile Creek since 1981,” Lee said. “It wasn’t until a Chamber of Commerce trip to St. Louis that got things rolling.”
The local group saw how the Missouri city takes advantage of its greenspaces and natural resources. St. Louis also has a linear park and the famous Archway Park that helped to inspire the Mobilians.
“Forest Park in St. Louis is larger than Central Park,” Lee said. “It has all the assets we have at Langan, including tennis facilities, a golf course and an art gallery. We are just smaller.
“On the way back, Casi Callaway started talking about connecting Langan Park to Three Mile Creek. She asked, ‘Why don’t we re-energize these projects’.”
Callaway, who oversees the Mobile BayKeeper environmental group, has helped to pull together the private and public entities working on the greenway. Another subcommittee is focused on Three Mile Creek, and is chaired by Jennifer Denson and Kelly Warren. The eastern section of the plan includes the Crepe Myrtle Trail, with Jeff DeQuattro serving as the subcommittee chairman.
Lee said work is already taking place at Langan Park. He mentioned the pathway around the grounds, the bridge from the main park to the art museum and the renaissance at the botanical gardens.
The next project is to find a way to connect Langan Park through the Japanese Gardens to Three Mile Creek. Lee said he hopes a pedestrian crosswalk will be installed when Ziegler Boulevard is made wider.
Tricentennial Park plays big role
Leading the charge for the center section of the project has been the Mobile County Health Department’s Public Health Advisory Board known as Women Making a Difference. The group applied for and received a private grant of $218,650 from the Sybil H. Smith Charitable Trust. The funds will be used to create a kayak and canoe launch and install walkways along a section of Three Mile Creek at Tricentennial Park.
“We are very excited about having a linear park along Three Mile Creek,” said Dr. Bernard H. Eichold II, the MCHD’s health officer. “When you look at downtown San Antonio, you can see what an urban waterway can do for a city.
“The jogging and biking paths we are adding will provide a great opportunity for our citizens to promote healthy lifestyles. Kayaks and canoes will allow for great recreational opportunities, to include seeing wildlife or just get exercise. Three Mile Creek will again become a destination.”
Roberts said everything started to come together after the Chamber of Commerce trip. He said Mayor Sandy Stimpson wants to create a good quality of life for the citizens of Mobile, and this was the perfect project.
“What makes this easy is the location and cooperation of those involved,” Roberts said. “The land is owned mostly by the Mobile Housing Board, MAWSS and the City of Mobile. The project will increase the value and the opportunities in this area.”
Bicycle ride along Mobile Bay
The final link in the chain is the Crepe Myrtle Trail, which proposes a bicycle and running path connecting downtown to the mouth of Dog River. The idea has also floated around for decades, but it got new life when Mobile United’s Natural Resources Committee made it a priority.
The path will connect four city parks: Arlington, Doyle, McNally and Helen Wood. It will provide access to the neighborhoods adjacent to Dauphin Island Parkway with safe bicycle and walking routes. The trail would start on Water Street near the end of the Three Mile Creek path. It would continue to Broad Street, and eventually down Bayfront Road. A full map can be found at www.bicyclemobile.org.
“The bayside trail could connect half a dozen or more existing and future parks along Mobile’s waterfront and act as a critical North/South corridor for Mobilians,” said DeQuattro, who is also known for his work with the Delta Bike Project. “We hosted two community meetings the last week in April that helped us acquire valuable feedback from potential users about concerns and hopes of a trail system.
“Overwhelmingly, people wanted connectivity between neighborhoods, places of employment, recreation and shopping. We have a unique opportunity here in Mobile to make our home even more special and relevant than it is today.”
To introduce residents to the project, the second annual Crepe Myrtle Trail Bike Ride will take place Saturday. The free 11-mile event will have registration at 8:30 a.m. at Arlington Park (off Broad Street near Fort Whiting). The ride, which starts at 9 a.m., will offer a trip down the east side of the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley. There will be educational talks about bird habitat, Mobile-Tensaw Delta Estuary and environmental restoration. For information, call 251-432-1638 or visit www.mobileunited.org.
“I see the potential for travel from Langan Park to Dog River within 10 years,” Lee said about the Mobile Greenway Initiative. “It will just take everyone working together.”