Mobile County Commissioner Merceria Ludgood says she kept getting the same comment from residents during an Earth Day event at Chickasabogue Park earlier this year: “I didn’t know this was here.”
“I guess because I knew I just assumed everybody did,” she told Lagniappe at the park last week. “We do get a lot of people through here from out of state and even out of the country, but here at home, it seems like we need to do a much better job of making people aware of what we have here.”
Just eight miles from Downtown Mobile in Eight Mile — tucked away in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta — Chickasabogue Park is a 1,100-acre, county-owned park that boasts biking and hiking trails, a 36-hole disc golf course, streams, rivers, a beachfront and a number of other amenities.
It’s also an important piece of the Mobile County Commission’s efforts to expand public access to the waterfront. Already this year, the county has used $715,000 in federal grant funding to purchase the old Escatawpa Hollow Campground, and has put another $95,000 toward securing a boat ramp on Fowl River.
Both purchases have the same goal: giving county residents greater access to their coastal resources.
To that same end, the county is currently developing a master plan for improvements and additions that will be made at Chickasabogue Park and in other areas in the delta over the next few years using millions of dollars in federal grant money from the Restore Act and the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act (GOMESA) — a program that directs revenue from federal oil and gas leases to coastal communities.
Last fall, commissioners approved a three-year GOMESA expenditure plan that set aside $3.1 million for the development and implementation of that Public Access Master Plan. The county also plans to use an $8 million Restore Act allocation to make additional upgrades at the park as part of its Blueway Trail.
Like some of the county’s GOMESA efforts, the Blueway Trail project is aimed at protecting sensitive coastal environments as well as promoting and supporting nature-based tourism. However, before those dollars are spent in the coming years, the county is seeking input from residents on what type of improvements they’d like to see and hosting an online survey to gather public input through Aug. 30.
“The masterplan and the Blueway Trail are two different efforts, but we’re trying to bring them together,” Mobile County Environmental Services Director Eddie Kerr said. “But, public input is a big part of those planning efforts because we do not want to build something that the community doesn’t want to come to.”
Putting together a master plan can be a lengthy process, but Kerr said the county’s environmental staff is hoping to have something that can be released by the end of the year, and with a couple of million dollars of GOMESA funding already set aside, Chickasabogue Park could start seeing improvements in 2020.
Exactly what those upgrades might look like has yet to be finalized, as the county is still waiting on public input to shape its plan. Kerr also said a lot of the future upgrades would be tackled piecemeal as they’re identified and funding sources for them become available. Because the Restore Act and GOMESA each have their own set of stringent requirements, not every project would be appropriate for both.
“We’re in the process of looking at everything parkwide, but we have to look at what funding opportunities can pay for each of these improvements as we go along,” Kerr said. “The Blueway funding is really for infrastructure associated with paddling and water access, so it’s not going to fund new RV sites or anything like that. Blueway is more for things like boat ramps or adding a bathroom [to a trail].”
With the county poised to make a “significant investment” into Chickasabogue Park, Ludgood said officials are also hoping to do a better job getting the word out about what it already has to offer — like kayak and canoe rentals, recreational fields and a 3-mile paddle trail along Chickasabogue Creek.
Ludgood, whose district includes the park, said the current federal grants available through Restore and GOMESA have made it possible to make long range plans for the park for the first time.
“With our regular general fund dollars, and even with some capital dollars, we’ve been limited in what we can do, but having two funding streams dedicated for projects like these … that’s just a real game changer,” she said. “GOMESA is also a continuing stream, as long as we have those leases, that allows you to plan and to dream, whereas in the past, we’ve had to focus on what was right in front of us.”
More information about Chickasabogue Park and Mobile County’s other public acquisition and enhancement projects is available at mobilecountyal.gov.
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