1 week ago

Montgomery eyes new nature park, recreational trail network

For years, greenspace advocates in Montgomery have eyed an extraordinary, city-owned property near downtown as a potential site for a new park. The proposed public space even has a name: Cypress Nature Park.

Others have longed for the city to create recreational trails that would better connect neighborhoods and capitalize on Montgomery’s historic and natural resources.

Those conversations are turning to action as the city, Montgomery County and a nonprofit group collaborate on a master plan for both Cypress Nature Park and a citywide trail network.

One piece in the puzzle could be under construction later this year: a new trailhead and small park north of downtown along the Alabama River near the Montgomery Marina/RV Park and famed Capitol City Oyster Bar. Plans call for constructing a bicycle and pedestrian path south from the trailhead, all the way back to the existing downtown Montgomery Riverwalk.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit River Region Trails expects to receive within a few weeks the first phase of a master plan for Cypress Nature Park and the trail network. The document, which is being prepared by a private consulting group, was funded in part by the nonprofit Alabama Power Foundation and will help guide the nonprofit trails organization and public officials on the best, next steps forward.

“We’re trying to get from knowing what this could be to defining what it should be, focusing on our overall goals for improving Montgomery,” said Will O’Connor, River Regions Trails executive director. “We want to build what we can build now to create momentum for more.”

At the heart of the parks/trails vision is the proposed Cypress Nature Park, a 260-acre parcel northeast of downtown, just north of the city’s historic Oakwood Cemetery. The parcel includes a stunning wetland area with mature black tupelo, water tupelo and bald cypress trees. From the wetland, the land rises 100 feet to a scenic bluff.

O’Connor said the qualities of the site indicate it may have once been part of the Alabama River, which now meanders past the city less than a mile away. The property is blessed with natural springs and seeps and is a haven for hundreds of species of birds, along with butterflies, a range of insects and invertebrates, and mammals, including racoon and deer.

He said few in town are aware of the site, although it is visited periodically by local college biology students. As a potential park, O’Connor and other advocates envision a host of amenities at the site, from a boardwalk trail through the wetlands, to hiking and biking trails, to interpretative signage and outdoor classrooms, making it a destination for environmental education. It would also be an amenity for a growing number of downtown loft and apartment dwellers.

“Most likely, the initial development focus would be the park,” O’Connor said, although the master plan will provide guidance. He said the initial hope is to begin development of the park in the next two years, with support from the city and other funders.

The bigger, long-term picture  – one that is likely take many years to refine and complete – envisions a 30-mile recreational trail, looping through multiple Montgomery neighborhoods and connecting to Cypress Nature Park. Tying into the “Loop” would be a network of smaller trails and sidewalks totaling 50 miles of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly routes for the community.

The loop – a precise route hasn’t been finalized – would make use of discontinued railway rights-of-way in some locations and newly created trails in others. It would link to the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail that cuts through west Montgomery to the state Capitol and connect with other city parks and historic sites.

O’Connor said the organization is looking closely at a six-mile section of privately held railroad right-of-way, heading southeast from near downtown, that could become the initial “spine” of the trail loop. If that section can be developed into a trail, “it will begin to show how impactful this could be.”

He said the trail network would weave city neighborhoods closer together, with inviting walk paths and sidewalks. The network has the potential to boost property values, encourage residential and business development, and entice tourists. It could also help improve the health of the community by offering residents an easily accessible recreational asset for fitness and stress relief, not to mention providing a safe, alternate method for people to move around town without a car.

“Our trail can offer different things to different people,” O’Connor said, “It promises multiple benefits for the community.”

City officials are enthusiastic about the potential impacts of the Loop and Cypress Nature Park.

“We are excited to promote the Loop as a way for locals and visitors alike to get out and enjoy the existing urban trails that connect downtown and the Alabama River with a surprising density of public art, cool destinations, deep history and wonderful views,” said Jocelyn Zanzot, an urban planner with the City of Montgomery. “Overall, we are very excited to partner with River Region Trails to make these new opportunities for exploring Montgomery possible.”

John Steiner is a board member of River Region Trails and chairman of the board of the The Nature Conservancy’s Alabama chapter. He said River Region Trails is working with other partners and experts, including representatives of local universities, on the park and trails plan. He said the master plan will help sketch out a roadmap for the projects, but also provide information that can be used to broaden the conversation with the community and with potential public and private-sector funders.

O’Connor said public input and participation will be critical as plans develop, to ensure community buy-in and build support.

“The Cypress Nature Park is a spectacular part of Montgomery,” said Leslie Sanders, vice president of Alabama Power’s Southern Division, which is headquartered in the city. “When we talk about innovative and exciting opportunities to enhance the quality of life for those in Montgomery, and the visitor experience, the work of River Region Trails should be very near the top.

“Few cities have such an opportunity to bring together such diverse and unique recreational and educational opportunities. The trails and park will be important to the growing narrative that Montgomery is a great place to live, work and visit.”

To learn more about the park and trails plan and how to support the effort, visit the River Region Trails website at www.riverregiontrails.org.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 mins ago

7 Things: Pressure to end COVID restrictions builds on Ivey, University of Alabama System back to full-time schedules this fall, more vaccines coming to Alabama and more …

7. Trumps get vaccinated

  • According to one of former President Donald Trump’s advisers, Trump and former first lady Melania Trump got their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine before they left the White House this year. This is the first news that Trump received the vaccine.
  • Of course, their second doses were administered while living in Florida. Previously, Trump didn’t say one way or the other if he would get the vaccine, and his doctors had said he shouldn’t get the vaccine due to possible complications from treatments he received when he had the virus.

6. U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl makes monuments fight a national issue

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  • There has been a lot of debate in Alabama over the future of Confederate monuments in the state. The battle is now moving to Washington, D.C. after the D.C. Facilities and Commemorative Expressions Working Group (DCFACES) recommended 150 sites be changed. Included in the suggestions are the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Woodrow Wilson High School and even monuments that honored Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, George Mason, Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus.
  • Now, U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) has introduced the “The American Heritage Protection Act” that would protect national monuments from bureaucrats. He advised, “My bill is in response to D.C. bureaucrats’ attempts to change the names, remove, relocate, or “contextualize” the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument.”

5. Biden is back to believing all women should be heard

  • Apparently, hitting on a girl at a wedding is the straw that broke the back of the American news media and their Democrats, as they are covering New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) many scandals. This comes after the third accusation of sexual harassment has come out against Cuomo. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that President Joe Biden would support an “independent” investigation.
  • Biden was much less open to an investigation into Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against him, but Psaki claims that “Biden has been consistent that he believes every woman should be heard.”

4. Tuberville: 2022 is the last chance to keep America 

  • U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) recently spoke about the future of the country and upcoming elections while at the 2021 Winter Meeting for the Alabama Republican Party. Tuberville said that “we’re in trouble” and noted that Republicans are those who want “God in our schools, that want “to go with the Constitution” and that want to “have small government.”
  • Tuberville added that Democrats “are just the opposite.” He added that 2022 is the last chance before “it’ll be too far gone,” stressing the importance of the midterm elections for Republicans.

3. Alabama to receive over 40,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

  • The Johnson & Johnson single-dose coronavirus vaccine is the third vaccine on the market, and the Alabama Department of Public Health has said that the state will receive 40,100 doses just this week.
  • This will dramatically increase the vaccination rate in Alabama, where 617,768 people have already received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. It’s now expected that Alabama will receive 140,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines this week.

2. These kids are going to throw a tantrum

  • The University of Alabama in Huntsville, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa will all reopen for the fall 2021 semester as normal, removing all classroom restrictions and returning to full in-person classes.
  • There’s a “strong likelihood” that going back to regular on-campus activity will be safe in the fall, according to dean of UAB School of Medicine Dr. Selwyn Vickers. Vickers also stated that “if safety concerns arise, we can adjust our plan” as the health and safety of those who attend and work for the schools is the “top priority.”

1. We are officially two weeks from the one year anniversary of “15 days to slow the spread”

  • As daily coronavirus cases have declined throughout the state and more people are being vaccinated every day, there is some question that the statewide mask mandate issued by Governor Kay Ivey may be allowed to expire on March 5. Alabama hospitals want it extended.
  • Ivey has renewed the order since it was first put in place in July, but she has yet to signal if she will be extending the order again. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has said, “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”

34 mins ago

Alabama House to consider bill giving legislature more oversight over how executive branch spends money

The Alabama House will consider a bill on Tuesday, backed by the chamber’s leaders, that would create a joint legislative committee with the authority to approve contracts, leases and agreements made by the executive branch.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), chair of the powerful Rules Committee, HB392 comes in the wake of Governor Kay Ivey’s plan to build three massive new prisons for men. Legislators from both parties have complained about their branch of government’s lack of input in the massive deal.

“Whenever an administration enters into agreements involving millions of taxpayer dollars, the Legislature deserves to have its questions answered and any concerns addressed,” said House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) in a statement.

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McCutcheon is a cosponsor of the legislation alongside Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), Majority Whip Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston (R-Mobile).

The bill creates the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Obligation Transparency and invests it with the power to approve or disapprove of any state agency’s proposed financial arrangement worth $10 million or 5% of its annual appropriation, whichever is less.

Making up the committee would be the chair, vice chair and ranking minority members of the committees in each legislative chamber that oversee taxation.

Meetings would occur at the call of the chair of the new joint committee, a position which would be elected from among its members at its first meeting. The responsibility of chairing the committee would switch between a member of the House and a member of the Senate each year.

A majority of committee members would also have the authority to call a meeting.

The proposed oversight committee would be able to meet when the legislation is in or out of session. It would have to issue approval or disapproval within 45 days of a state agency submitting a proposed contract.

If the committee were not to issue a decision on a contract within 45 days, it would be considered approved.

Disapproval by the committee would delay a contract from going into effect until after the end of the current or next regular session, giving lawmakers a chance to legislate on the issue.

Only future financial agreements would be subject to examination by the committee, meaning passage of Jones’ bill would not affect Ivey’s prison construction plan.

“Rep. Jones’s legislation offers a commonsense method of protecting taxpayers and reassuring lawmakers when large sums of dollars are being obligated,” remarked McCutcheon.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

2 hours ago

Rep. Jerry Carl introduces bill to prevent bureaucrats from removing, altering certain historical monuments

Congressman Jerry Carl (AL-01) on Monday filed his first-ever piece of legislation, titled “The American Heritage Protection Act of 2021.”

The Republican freshman representative from Mobile noted that his bill comes after the D.C. Facilities and Commemorative Expressions Working Group (DCFACES) last fall recommended 150 sites in our nation’s capital be either removed, contextualized or have their name changed. Sites specifically under fire include the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Woodrow Wilson High School and the fountain at Chevy Chase Circle.

Other historical figures with listed buildings or monuments included Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, George Mason, Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus.

“Today, I was proud to introduce the American Heritage Protection Act of 2021, which protects our nation’s history from being erased or altered based on the whims of government bureaucrats,” said Carl in a statement.

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Carl’s bill would explicitly prohibit the U.S. Department of Interior from changing the names, removing or altering the following monuments in D.C.: the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Additionally, the legislation would prevent Interior from removing or altering statues related to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 or Civil War battlefields under its purview.

“While many people wish to erase or rewrite our history, I believe the best path forward involves learning from our complex history and avoiding judgment of historical figures based on today’s standards,” the Coastal Alabama congressman concluded. “If we erase or rewrite our history, we are unable to learn and grow from our past. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in this endeavor so we as Americans can engage in honest, accurate, and unifying discussions that enable us to move forward as one nation.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — March 2, 2021

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday will convene for the 10th day of its 2021 regular session.

There is also one committee meeting scheduled for the day, as well as one subcommittee meeting.

Read about what occurred last Thursday on the ninth legislative day here.

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Looking ahead

The Alabama Senate will gavel in at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

This will come after the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee meets at 1:00 p.m. The committee’s agenda includes four election-related bills; especially of note, SB 235 sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) would ban curbside voting in Alabama. Curbside voting is not provided for in Alabama law, however it is also not explicitly barred at this time.

The committee is further scheduled to take up SB 259 by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road) that would allow the legislature to call itself into a special session. The provisions of the bill would require a joint proclamation by the Senate pro tem and the House speaker to call a special session; a resolution carrying the support of 2/3 of each chamber would then have to be adopted before business could be taken up in such a special session. The bill was officially introduced last week on the first legislative day following Governor Kay Ivey’s “herd of turtles” remarks. Between Barfoot and 16 cosponsors, the bill already has the support of an effective majority of the Senate, which only has a maximum of 32 members in attendance so far this session. SB 259 is a companion bill to Rep. Becky Nordgren’s (R-Gadsden) HB 21, which was prefiled back in October. Her bill is set to be considered in a House committee on Wednesday.

The House will convene at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Before that, the County and Municipal Government Committee’s Government Service Subcommittee will meet at 11:00 a.m. On that docket is SB 107 by Sen. Chris Elliot (R-Daphne).

The lower chamber’s floor action is set to focus on a 16-bill special order calendar, which can be viewed here.

Included on that calendar is Rep. Jamie Kiel’s (R-Russellville) HB 103, which would effectively erase the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses during a pandemic or other declared emergency.

Also slated for consideration is Rep. Scott Stadthagen’s (R-Hartselle) HB 391; this bill would mandate that public school students can only compete in athletic competitions aligning with the gender on their birth certificates.

Another notable bill on the House special order calendar is Rep. Paul Lee’s (R-Dothan) HB 249. This legislation would cap a health insurance beneficiary’s cost-sharing or co-pay for an insulin drug prescription at $100 per 30-day supply.

Observers may also be interested to know that Rep. Jeremy Gray’s (D-Opelika) HB 246 is on the calendar; this is the bill that would allow yoga to be offered in public K-12 schools.

Finally, Rep. Mike Jones’ (R-Andalusia) HB 392 is set to be considered. This bill would create a formal layer of legislative oversight — and additional transparency — on executive branch contracts, leases and agreements exceeding $10 million.

“It is important that we maintain a system of checks and balances, and the Legislature must be able to access important information about agreements that obligate the General Fund to substantial expenditures,” Jones said in a Monday statement. “This bill provides an additional layer of oversight on large executive branch agreements in a manner that is fair, transparent, and, most of all, constitutional.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) stated that he supports the bill.

“Whenever an administration enters into agreements involving millions of taxpayer dollars, the Legislature deserves to have its questions answered and any concerns addressed,” McCutcheon said. “Rep. Jones’s legislation offers a commonsense method of protecting taxpayers and reassuring lawmakers when large sums of dollars are being obligated.”

While it could pertain to items similar to Governor Ivey’s prison plan in the future, the legislation would not be retroactive and would not apply to current contracts, leases and other obligations.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

LISTEN: Actor Robert Ri’chard previews upcoming faith-based movie ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Robert Ri’chard grew up in South Central Los Angeles in a very challenging environment. He had to make disciplined choices at an early age that would help determine his future and get him to where he is today.

Robert, an actor, entertainer, entrepreneur and mentor, lives with purpose every day.

In this episode, we discuss the choices we all need to make each day to become who God calls us to be. We also talk about the upcoming movie he co-stars in which will be coming out this month, “My Brother’s Keeper.” The movie deals with the struggles of PTSD and how God can help people overcome it. TC Stallings stars as a veteran returning from war and trying to reestablish a life back home. Robert plays his best friend, Donnie, and the two struggle to maintain their relationship after division arises between the two of them. The film also features Keisha Knight Pulliam and Joey Lawrence.

This is a great faith-based movie that is good for the whole family. Check local listings and online for viewing options starting March 19.

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