The city of Foley is currently studying bringing two new trail projects to the city, with one of those involving the former L&N Railroad right of way.
Much of the spine of the old L&N spur from Bay Minette to Foley remains in place today and the right of way is predominantly owned by Riviera Utilities, according to Foley Councilman Ralph Hellmich. Recently Foley officials met with the Baldwin County Commission seeking to turn the old railroad bed into a trail with help from a National Park Service (NPS) grant program called Rails to Trails.
The grant would pay for planning the route. The 60-mile easement could possibly be added to with hopes of going from Bay Minette all the way to the beach cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Hellmich said.
“The National Park Service contacted the city of Foley in 2018 regarding trails in general,” Foley City Planner Miriam Boutwell said. “The city of Foley applied for a consultant grant through NPS’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.”
Before meeting with commissioners Boutwell said the city formed a group of interested parties from Foley, Riviera Utilities, Baldwin United and other groups.
“A Rails to Trails project seemed viable since the city of Foley originally purchased the old railroad right of way,” Boutwell said. “Since that time, parcels have been sold, but Riviera Utilities maintains an easement. We are researching the viability of placing a public pedestrian way on these easements. The overall project would be Foley to Bay Minette, but would be completed in phases. At this time, we think the first phase might connect Foley, Summerdale and Robertsdale; however, that will be decided during the project scoping.”
But that’s not the only trail project Foley is working on, Boutwell said. The second involves the Graham Creek Nature Preserve.
“Foley will continue working with the NPS to work on a trail from Graham Creek Nature Preserve to Gulf Shores/Orange Beach,” Boutwell said. “The city will apply for a consultation grant and form a stakeholder group for this area. It will follow the same process as Rails to Trails. We will apply for a consultation grant this year and then apply for a project grant next year.”
Boutwell is not sure how much the initial grants will be until more study is done leading up to the projects.
“Although this is being done via a grant, the NPS does not charge for this service,” Boutwell said. “Once the project details are worked out, those plans will be used for budgeting purposes and to apply for funding grants.”
Boutwell said it’s too early in the process to put a timeline on the project.
Rails to Trails is a national program and in Alabama there are 87 miles of converted trail at 20 different sites, including trails in Robertsdale and Citronelle. According to railstotrails.org, the national nonprofit organization is “dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”
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