Creating public spaces and connectivity through greenways

single-meta-cal November 21, 2016

As Dennis Madsen saw his BIG Picture come into focus, one aspect “caught me off-guard,” he admits.

Madsen, the manager of urban and long-range planning for the City of Huntsville, has met with dozens and dozens of groups across the community with his BIG Picture master planning project, collecting input and ideas from citizens about the city’s future.

“I knew there would be people out there who liked greenways,” Madsen says, “but when we asked folks what are some of their favorite places or their priorities, greenways kept rising to the top, regardless of demographics and locations. Over and over, we heard that they loved the greenway network and they’d like to see that built out even further.”

A monumental step toward the growth of the greenway network is being taken in the City of Huntsville’s new partnership with the Land Trust of North Alabama.

The two entities are teaming up “for the express purpose of accelerating the planning and implementation of the greenway network as it’s currently outlined, and adding to and refining the current greenway plan,” Madsen says.

“It made more sense that we work with each other to get more bang for the buck.”

The City of Huntsville has a plan for 180-plus miles of greenways, though less than 15 percent of the network has been completed. The partnership will provide more funding and expertise and more immediately created greenway paths.

“We have a huge community here that likes to get out and enjoy running, biking and hiking and we don’t have enough trails in the city,” says Marie Bostick, executive director of the Land Trust. The organization’s hiking trails are already in partnership with the city in the Healthy Huntsville initiative.

Under Bostick’s direction, the Land Trust will  update the City’s greenway plan, prioritize corridors, and work to secure land donations and the required rights-of-way.

The Land Trust has the capabilities for private fund-raising from individuals and corporations and the City of Huntsville will provide matching funds to Land Trust contributions to the project.

According to Madsen, similar arrangements have taken place in cities such as Atlanta and Chattanooga to “quickly and effectively implement greenway networks.”

Says Bostick, “It made more sense that we work with each other to get more bang for the buck.”

Most of the current greenways in Huntsville have paved paths, which have come with a high price tag, especially since many are in flood plains.

The City of Huntsville-Land Trust partnership will look to develop more greenway paths created with tightly packed gravel, which will serve hikers and walkers, and even trail bikes, at a fraction of the cost of paved paths.

“This gives us a lot more flexibility,” Madsen says. “Every year we can add a whole lot more miles in a shorter time.”

The greenways network is an essential part of Huntsville’s future on two levels, for recreation and transportation.

“There was a time when I think communities in America thought of greenways as just long skinny parks, that they were a destination unto themselves and that’s true still to a certain extent,” says city administrator John Hamilton. “Now there’s more conversation about how they can serve as commuter routes while they also remain recreation venues.”

In solidifying the partnership with the Land Trust, the City of Huntsville provides a homecoming of sorts. Bostick spent 30 years at City Hall and retired in 2014 from the position of manager of planning and zoning administration. In 1980, she began developing the city’s greenway system.

The Land Trust of North Alabama, a non-profit organization, is tied closely in most minds with Monte Sano. Indeed, the 1,100 acres of Land Trust area on the mountain makes it one of the largest urban nature preserves in the United States.

The Land Trust is a steward for more than 6,000 acres, with six different preserves. It works with landowners to donate or sell property to assure preservation.

“We have mountains and waterfalls, and that’s what people know us as,” Bostick says. “It’s a lot more than that. We own urban land, too. We have corridors on creeks that are urban. We think it’s very important that we preserve land in urban neighborhoods.”

The Land Trust also serves in educational aspects, providing opportunities for local students to have environmental education and as an arena for scientific research for myriad professionals.

There is another task for The Land Trust.

“We have a goal of getting everybody in nature in 10 minutes, so they can get out and enjoy it,” Bostick says.

This landmark partnership is a major step toward reaching that goal.