Limestone County commissioners voted Monday to support adding a 10-mile stretch of Sugar Creek in the northwest corner of the county to the Alabama Scenic River Trail, despite opposition from at least one nearby landowner.
District 4 Commissioner Ben Harrison, who represents that part of the county and initiated the plan, said including the creek in the river trail system will bring more tourists to the area and help drive away people who are littering and causing trouble there.
“We’re looking at three different sites” for kayak and canoe access, Harrison said at Monday's commission meeting. Those are at Alabama 99, Cotton Belt Road and at the iron bridge over Sugar Creek.
The Alabama Scenic River Trail is made up of more than 5,300 miles of streams and rivers across the state with campsites and other amenities along the system. A 20-mile route from Flint Creek on U.S. 31 through Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge to Point Mallard was approved in June for inclusion in the river trail.
Harrison said the next step for the Sugar Creek project is for the board of directors of the nonprofit Alabama Scenic River Trail Association to consider accepting the creek into the river trail system. The group can provide funding for access sites and for clearing obstructions from the creek, he said after the meeting.
The commission, in a 4-0 vote, endorsed the proposal for the creek.
Hooper Inman, who owns property along Sugar Creek Road, opposes it.
“I’m totally against it because of the riffraff” that comes to the creek, Inman said. “It’s been nothing but trouble around there.”
He told the commission at a public hearing last October that he wants to protect the property that his family members have farmed for generations.
Inman and Marcus Smith, both owners of adjoining properties, had asked the commission to vacate a portion of Sugar Creek Road’s right of way — 30 feet on each side of the road — from its intersection with Persimmon Tree Road to its intersection with Inez Road.
A county resident who wants access to Sugar Creek for boating and swimming supports the creek being part of the river trail system.
“I’m definitely all for it,” said Steve Tucker, a Lester resident and canoeist who lives a couple of miles from the creek. “I want everybody to be able to enjoy the creek.”
Harrison said Sugar Creek Road was closed in 2006 when the iron bridge over the creek was found to be structurally unsound, while another bridge at the creek is in good shape.
A portion of the road from the intersection of Inez and Sugar Creek roads to the iron bridge has been reopened, he said.
“The (iron) bridge will have to be replaced to open the (entire) road,” Harrison said. “We won’t be able to replace it unless we get grant money.” He said Top of Alabama Regional Council of Governments is in the process of preparing a grant proposal for funds to help replace the iron bridge.
Harrison said last month that if the right of way is vacated now, there won’t be a way to reacquire it in the future.
At its meeting, the commission also approved an agreement with the city of Huntsville over the city’s share of the funding to replace the Old Highway 20 bridge at Limestone Creek.
The costs of construction, engineering and inspection are estimated at about $2.66 million.
Federal Emergency Relief funds will pay for 80 percent, and the 20 percent local match is to come from Limestone County through a Federal Aid funds swap, the city of Huntsville and state public road and bridge funds.
The former bridge, west of Greenbrier Parkway, was damaged by flooding on Christmas Day in 2015.