Whether it’s by ferry, bridge or bus, the Singing River Trail must cross the Tennessee River to get the required support from Decatur, local officials and residents agree.
Officials held a workshop Wednesday at the Alabama Center for the Arts to unveil the draft plan for the proposed 70-mile Singing River Trail.
The proposed route runs from downtown Huntsville and into the portion of Decatur in Limestone County, but officials have run into a barrier at the river.
“Finding an effective way across the river is going to be very important to getting Decatur’s support,” said Decatur City Council President Paige Bibbee.
The Decatur City Council contributed $5,000 to a feasibility study for the trail.
Councilman Billy Jackson said Wednesday he “would have a hard time supporting anything that doesn’t directly effect the base of the city’s population,” even if several miles run through Decatur in Limestone County.
Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said the city should support the project even if the trail doesn’t cross the river. He said the economic impact and health benefits of a trail project should outweigh any doubts.
“This is about being a good regional partner,” Bowling said.
Matt Hayes of Alta Planning and Design is leading the trail design effort, under the direction of a 30-member regional committee. He said crossing the river is the most difficult part of the route, and he knows it's key to getting Decatur’s support.
The committee also wants the trail, after it crosses the river, eventually to follow the Trail of Tears route into the Shoals area, Hayes said.
Hayes said one possible way across the river would be to build a boardwalk from Hospitality Park across the river backwaters to Riverwalk Marina and, then on the south side of the marina, use a ferry to carry people across the deep main channel to Rhodes Ferry Park.
“A lot of bike tours across Europe use ferries,” Hayes said.
Dr. Bill Sims, a local man who has been the main force behind the Bill Sims Bike Trail through Decatur, said a trail along the CSX Railroad tracks with a cantilever (a small hanging bridge) under the railroad bridge is a possibility.
Decatur resident Blair Temple said a road runs alongside the north end of the railroad as it crosses the backwaters and before the railroad bridge that would be perfect for a bike trail.
However, Jackson said he doubts railroad officials would allow the use of any portion of the railroad property. He said he tried to get the Bill Sims Trail extended between the Carrie Matthews Recreation Center and Decatur City Cemetery, but railroad officials refused to cooperate.
Dewayne Hellums, director of the Decatur-area Metropolitan Planning Organization, said there’s room in the outside, western median along the U.S. 31 causeway for a bike trail, and a cantilever could be added to the Hudson Bridge.
Hayes said a cantilever could be too heavy for either bridge.
City Planner Karen Smith said they've talked about using NARCOG Transit's buses, which are planned for a route between downtown Decatur and Calhoun Community College, to carry bicycles and their riders.
NARCOG Transit Executive Director Robby Cantrell said his buses would need bicycle racks, a bus stop and a way for riders to contact the buses. Moreover, his buses don't run on weekends.
Hayes said he hopes to unveil and begin building the first priorities on the trail later this year. The trail has already received some grants in the Huntsville area.
While he’ll have some cost estimates for those first priorities, Hayes said, he doesn’t have any idea how much the entire trail will cost.
The trail draft route comes out of Huntsville along Interstate 565. It splits at Redstone Arsenal, with one trail following the interstate and another going to Triana and through Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. They come back together in Mooresville and the trail crosses under Interstate 65.
The trail splits again at a new Alabama 20 overpass just west of I-65 that will be funded by a $14.2 million federal grant Decatur recently received from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Dana Pigg, grants coordinator for the city of Decatur, said preliminary plans are to include a bike trail/walking path as part of the overpass design.
The north branch of the Singing River Trail will follow Bibb Garrett and Airport roads to U.S. 31 at Calhoun Community College.
The plan is for the southern branch to go west through the refuge, although some “sensitive habitat” in this area might force a change in this plan, Hayes said.