Starting a new trail for bicyclists, walkers, runners and even horseback riders usually starts with trying to get permission to use the land for a trail.
A new Baldwin County initiative has that rudimentary problem pretty much solved. The National Park Service (NPS) is working with officials in Baldwin County to help develop a 34-mile long Rails to Trails corridor from Foley to Bay Minette.
“The beauty of this project, in my opinion, is that the land is already acquired for it,” Joshua Tuck of NPS said. “The corridor exists and from my understanding, it’s a 100 percent easement corridor from Foley to Bay Minette. Obviously, the difficulty isn’t in this case ownership or getting the land, which is usually the biggest hurdle to jump.”
Tuck spoke at the Plan Lower Alabama Now (PLAN) meeting on Nov. 14 at the Graham Creek Nature Preserve in Foley. PLAN has regular meetings at the center and invites planners from the county and cities in Baldwin County, as well as engineers, developers, realtors and home builders to speak.
“The National Park Service’s role in the project is to assist in creating a collaborative process between the cities in which the former rail corridor runs, and to assist the cities in formulating a shared vision for the trail system,” Tuck told the group. “The National Park Service’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program is a special partnerships division that provides technical support via career professionals to communities looking to further their outdoor recreation, conservation and environmental endeavors.”
The right of way of the former L&N railroad line in the corridor is now owned by the city of Foley. And while there are no buildings in the right of way several easements have been issued along the way for parking lots, parks with the main part of the corridor serving as an easement for Riviera Utilities.
“Trail systems really bring a unique opportunity to a community, especially this one because it intersects so many nearby downtown spaces,” Tuck said. “I personally haven’t seen such a unique opportunity uplift several cities at one time as seen in this particular project.”
Tuck said his role and the role of NPS will be to build relationships all along the corridor to get cooperation to get the trail developed.
“But the particular issue here is making sure we can get all the cities on board with the shared vision for such a trail corridor,” Tuck said. “Several community leaders and city officials believe that if we can develop buy-in from each city for an extensive, multi-use trail system, Baldwin County may have a rare opportunity to not only connect many cities in the county via alternative transportation, but also create a special economic opportunity in which downtowns, neighborhoods, schools and businesses can profit in major economic and social ways.”
He said he and other members of the NPS’s Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance program team will spend about two years working with county officials and cities all along the route to help bring the project to reality.
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