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250 acres of Hurricane Creek area to be park

by Katie Shaddix last modified August 05, 2008 01:18 PM

TUSCALOOSA | A plan to set aside nearly 250 acres of Hurricane Creek as a public park,includingthe environmentally sensitive section known as the M-Bend, got a boost from the County Commission on Wednesday.

The Tuscaloosa News
250 acres of Hurricane Creek area to be park
By Jason Morton Staff Writer
Published: Thursday, July 24, 2008 at 3:30 a.m.

 
TUSCALOOSA | A plan to set aside nearly 250 acres of Hurricane Creek as a public park,includingthe environmentally sensitive section known as the M-Bend, got a boost from the County Commission on Wednesday.
The commission agreed to borrow the money to buy the property on behalf of the county Park and Recreation Authority, which wants to protect the area by establishing it as a park.
The leader of a group that has fought for years to preserve Hurricane Creek was elated.
'I think it's absolutely the most proactive thing I have ever seen done in this community,' said John Wathen, who heads the Friends of Hurricane Creek.
'To buy a piece of wilderness area and not plan a ballfield on it, but leave it wilderness is extremely exciting,' he said.
'This is probably the biggest thing that has ever happened environmentally in this county.'
The commission voted unanimously to help PARA purchase 249 acres near the Alabama Highway 216 bridge over Hurricane Creek.
Don Kelly, executive director of PARA, said the authority is not empowered to borrow money. He asked the commission to do so with the understanding that PARA would repay the loan.
Kelly said PARA would purchase the land for its appraised value of $864,500, the amount the commission agreed to borrow.
PARA will raise money from throughout the community to repay the loan, Kelly said.
The property is being bought from the Trust for Public Land, a national, nonprofit, land conservation group based in Tennessee. The organization recently purchased the land from a Tuscaloosa family.
Wathen said other residents who own land adjacent to the 249-acre tract have indicated a willingness to sell their land to a similar trust or other conservation-based group.
'This is the first step in many, many steps in creating greenways throughout Tuscaloosa County and making those areas available to the public to use responsibly,' he said.
The goal behind the land purchase is to preserve and protect the land and the creek. Kelly said the area would be a designated PARA park, with trails and natural areas open to the public.
The park will include the 'M-bend,' a popular canoeing and recreation area known for its rare wildlife and rock formations, as well as the swimming area that residents have used for decades. PARA will control access to the swimming area to protect it from motorized vehicles, which have been a problem that led landowners to block public access to the creek.
'This area includes things we want to sustain, and PARA is the vehicle that can pull this all together,' Kelly said.
Commissioner Gary Youngblood, who represents this part of the county, was pleased that the county could help preserve an area that he's enjoyed since childhood.
'For children, and not just for those who've never seen it, but for people like I who grew up and walked up and down the creek and admired it ..., I'd like to never see it change,' Youngblood said. 'I just really believe it's important that maybe the government has a hand in keeping it that way.'
Kelly also said PARA intends to work closely with the Alabama Department of Transportation, which has a long-range plan to construct the Eastern Bypass through a portion of Hurricane Creek. The proposed highway will eventually connect Interstate 20/59 and U.S. Highway 82 on a route that loops around the eastern side of the city.
'We won't necessarily abate it, but we've discussed with ALDOT their proposed route and we understand the importance of the Eastern Bypass project going through,' Kelly said, noting the proposed road's expected economic effect on the region. 'We will continue to work with ALDOT on that.'
Wathen said he believes PARA will do its part to preserve the area when it comes to the ALDOT project.
'For the first time in our history, we can say this is a give back to the people of Tuscaloosa,' Wathen said. 'This land should be considered some of the most valuable property in Tuscaloosa County.'
 Reach Jason Morton atjason.morton@tuscaloosanews.comor 205-722-0200.
 


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