A bicycle trail running from Point Mallard Park to the Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge visitors center, proposed by state Sen. Arthur Orr on Thursday, got the support of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.
Orr, R-Decatur, outlined the idea at the chamber's state public policy agenda meeting as it prepares an agenda for 2021.
Orr said his goal is to develop a trail that helps cyclists cross Alabama 67/Point Mallard Parkway, and that connects to the visitors center access road.
“We’re trying increase usage of the refuge,” Orr said. “We don’t want the cyclist to have to put his bike on his vehicle to get from one side to the other.”
He said the proposed route he discussed with Ricky Ingram, the project leader at the refuge, would start near the Point Mallard water slide, run along Wheeler Lake south of Lakeview Drive and Agrilane, and then cross Flint Creek at a narrow point with a wooden bicycle bridge.
Orr said the biggest and most expensive obstacle would be crossing the highway. He said he would like to get a tunnel built under the highway if the money is available.
Orr said he is also looking at the possibility of a bike trail along the east side of Country Club Road that would allow riders to cross at the Alabama 67 intersection and go along the southwest side of the highway to the visitors center.
The refuge received $5.4 million in federal funding last year for major upgrades to the visitors center and its exhibits, repairs to the observation blind, construction of a new viewing platform at the center, replacement or rehabilitation of two boardwalks, and a new canoe and kayak launch.
Ingram recently said he would also like to add a 6-mile walking/bicycle trail that starts at the refuge's visitors center.
Danielle Gibson, executive director of Decatur-Morgan County Tourism, said bicycle trails have become increasingly popular during the coronavirus pandemic because they give families an outdoor activity.
Gibson said the 35,000-acre refuge is an important attraction for tourists and a quality-of-life asset for the city and county.
“We’ve been working with the refuge officials and we’re almost ready to roll out a big promotional package for the refuge,” Gibson said.
The chamber didn’t make many change from its 2020 to its 2021 state policy agenda Thursday. Among other items discussed:
• At the suggestion of Jeremy Nails, executive director and president of the Morgan County Economic Development Association, the group decided to support renewal of the state’s statutory incentive program.
Nails said the program — which assists in recruiting, retaining and sustaining businesses — expired for one county company and it’s set to expire for two more soon.
• The chamber continues to support the expansion of pre-kindergarten in the state. At the suggestion of state Rep. Terri Collins, R-Decatur, the group added support for early childhood education programs.
“One of the barriers to workforce and childhood development is the lack of day care options (for low-income families),” Collins said.
• At Orr’s suggestion, the chamber put its support behind increasing community involvement and student recruitment at the Alabama Center for the Arts in downtown Decatur.
• Orr said the Alabama Community College System is waiting on Decatur City Schools to move out of its central office on Fourth Avenue Northeast, after which the college system can use the building for the ACCA Innovation Center. The center will feature virtual instruction and technology. The move is expected by the end of the year and then it will take about six months to renovate the former DCS building, he said.
“They should be ready by June,” Orr said.
The local policy agenda meeting was in September. The federal agenda meeting will be at 10 a.m. Nov. 17.