An ongoing partnership between the City of Huntsville and Land Trust of North Alabama has created numerous outdoor recreational opportunities, but officials believe the best is yet to come.
The partnership, which resulted in the Greenway Master Plan in 2017, is forging new paths both literally and figuratively. Four years later, one City official said the plan has morphed into something much bigger than anticipated.
“Our network of greenways is a recruiting tool for new industries and new workforce,” said Dennis Madsen, Manager of Urban and Long-Range Planning for the City of Huntsville. “Of course, it also offers benefits to our citizens, including everything from home value to their very own lives.”
The latest goal of the fluid master plan is to add 44 miles of greenways by December 2022, including some slated to open within the next six weeks at Ditto Landing. Launching from the northwest corner of Ditto, the goal is to link an unnamed trail with the Aldridge Creek and Elgie’s Walk greenways to provide a new 12-mile loop for hikers and bikers of all ages.
Marie Bostick, executive director of the Land Trust of North Alabama, said the greenway system is a “natural fit” for both the City and her organization. A former planner with the City, Bostick said reconnecting residents with nature is a driving force behind the master plan.
“Being able to safely walk or bike your way to anywhere in town would be a great selling point for visitors and those considering a move to the area,” she said. “For me, I enjoy the quiet. The walk and hearing nature, the birds and the wind in the trees. It is really nice to be able to get from the hustle and bustle so quickly.”
A bit of history
The Land Trust of North Alabama started as a grassroots effort with 540 acres on Monte Sano. It is now a land management initiative that maintains more than 9,000 acres in North Alabama. With properties in six North Alabama counties, the majority of those are in Madison and Limestone counties.
In developing the master plan, officials gathered input from people from all backgrounds and demographics. Their feedback indicated a passion for greenways.
“The one response that kept coming back to us was just how much people of all walks of life enjoyed them,” Madsen said. “Before we could even ask follow-up questions, respondents would ask us when they would see more greenways in the future.”
Bostick hopes to make their wishes a reality by ensuring citizens are never farther than a mile from a greenway. It’s a quality-of-life amenity that would no doubt thrill residents like Leigh Owenby-McMillan.
“Since the onset of the pandemic, our family has found a much-needed escape from the stress that has piled up on all of us,” she said. “The greenways have served as a great option to just get outdoors and learn so much about our City.”
Working with the City to build more and more miles each year, the Land Trust of North Alabama is putting its expertise to work for our community.
“They are fantastic at acquiring land, ensuring preservation and gaining access to greenspace and all the natural beauty of the Tennessee Valley,” Madsen said of the Land Trust of North Alabama. “They’ve accelerated our ability to build greenways. They are popping up all over the City now. We have built more of these in the past few years than in the past two decades, combined.”
Coming soon is a plan to make the Meek Greenway in North Huntsville connect Alabama A&M University to downtown Huntsville. Also, developers are looking at the construction of a greenway to connect Cummings Research Park to the enhanced-use lease area near Gate 9 of the Redstone Arsenal.
In the meantime, the Land Trust of North Alabama will continue managing ongoing construction and acquiring new land for future greenways. Huntsville’s greenway network is among the most visited tourist destinations in North Alabama.
“The Greenway Master Plan is not only a road map for Huntsville’s future growth, but a way to truly leave a legacy for generations to come,” Madsen said.