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National Park Service selects 14 new communities for assistance

Large black woman in red gingham print dress with white apron and red headscarf sits holding a wooden walking stick.
Gullah Geechee Storyteller Anita Singleton Prather and Carl Parker, Brunswick County Branch NAACP.

D. Willis

ATLANTA – Today, the National Park Service (NPS) Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) announced the selection of 14 new communities and partners across the South Atlantic-Gulf Region to receive expert consultation from the NPS to help spur local recreation, conservation and economic development opportunities.

“More people in the past year have awakened to the power of parks to improve health, wellness and community wellbeing,” said Deirdre Hewitt, Program Manager, NPS. “We are excited to work with these communities and help provide more Americans access to the Great Outdoors.”

The recipients — located in Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee — were selected through a competitive process and will receive assistance to help make their rivers, trails, greenways and open spaces vital, life-enhancing parts of their communities. The new projects selected for assistance include:

ALABAMA
Auburn Conceptual Park and Trails
The Auburn Research and Technology Foundation works to support research and economic development at Auburn Research Park, a public-private partnership between Auburn University, the City of Auburn, and the State of Alabama. The Foundation’s vision is for a new trail network that focuses on outdoor recreation and healthy living while better connecting the park’s 171 acres of woodland to Auburn University and the city. By partnering with PlayCore, a company that specializes in designing and building unique recreational spaces, and the East Alabama Medical Center, the new trail system will be accessible for all ages and abilities as well as used for physical therapy and general exercise. With the NPS assistance, the project goal is to advance the trail network through a collaborative process with multiple stakeholders that will produce a new conceptual plan for additional recreation and access in the city and the park.

Colbert County Trails
Situated along the Tennessee River, Colbert County and the communities of Sheffield, Tuscumbia, and Muscle Shoals are in a prime location to capitalize on the 652-mile Tennessee RiverLine and the Singing River Trail of North Alabama that traverse through the Muscle Shoals area. The NPS will work with the Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area and the University of Northern Alabama to further expand recreational opportunities in Colbert County through the development of a Trails Master Plan. Through the planning process, the communities will establish a consolidated vision for improved water and greenway connectivity throughout the County, maximizing their involvement in these two major trail initiatives and increasing access to the river and associated recreational resources.

Johnny Ray Rail Trail
The Johnny Ray Rail Line, named after a train engineer who worked on the line, transported travelers between the cities of Opelika and Roanoke for more than 75 years. A three-county partnership is planning to create a trail through the original path of the rail line that connects schools, parks, other trails, and points of interest in the Eastern Alabama region. The multi-use trail will promote outdoor recreation access with a strong emphasis on bicycling and health. The primary goal of the project is to establish a community-supported master plan that will act as a blueprint for the trail and provide best steps for an overall implementation strategy.

KENTUCKY
Boone County Ohio River Trail Initiative
Featuring unique geological and environmental features, Boone County sits on 43 miles of Ohio River just southwest of Cincinnati. Many of these rich features are remote and can only be accessed via the Ohio River. The Boone Conservancy and Boone County Conservation District desire to improve access to the river itself and highlight the County’s natural and cultural assets while preserving them for future generations. The project goal is to develop a conservation and recreation plan that recognizes the importance of land conservation while also identifying best strategies for river access sites and potential land and water outdoor recreation opportunities.

The Warrior’s Path
The Warrior’s Path, known as Athiamiowee by the Shawnee Tribe, was a game and wildlife trail that was used by the Shawnee, Cherokee, and other American Indians tribes for centuries before pioneers started using the trail in the 18th century. The trail stretches from what is today southeast Tennessee through the Cumberland Gap and eastern Kentucky before ending in southern Ohio.

The McKee Trail Town and Olive Hill Council for Planning and Restoration envision an educational and cultural corridor that follows the Warrior’s Path through 17 eastern Kentucky counties. The goal, in partnership with the Kentucky Native American Heritage Commission and the NPS, is to preserve the remnants of the path, increase public awareness by seeking National Heritage and Scenic Trails designations, and expand outdoor recreation opportunities throughout the trail system. The final output of this project will be a master plan establishing motorized, bicycling, hiking, and horseback riding routes along the path while showcasing historic and cultural sites with signage and a digital guide. The partnership also seeks State and National Scenic Byway designation to further raise historical and cultural awareness of the Warrior’s Path while promoting economic development in the eastern Kentucky region through outdoor recreation tourism.

LOUISIANA
Cypress Park
In the fall of 2019, the East Baton Rouge Housing Authority received a $29.5 million Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Choice Neighborhood Initiative grant to construct a mixed-income housing development. The new development will produce 434 affordable housing units on a 40-acre site that will feature wetland conservation and environmental education in an urban setting. The Housing Authority, the NPS, and other community partners will collaborate to determine the best location for an educational trail throughout the site that allows for maximum protection of wetland vegetation while also promoting outdoor recreation and connections to the surrounding neighborhoods. Educational signs and exhibits will be a key attribute of the trail to encourage student engagement with Louisiana’s unique wetland environment.

MISSISSIPPI
Sunflower Trail
Sunflower Park in the City of Itta Bena is one of two parks in the city and currently provides the community with a short walking trail and two baseball fields. With the assistance of the NPS, the city aims to revitalize the park and transform it into a place for outdoor recreation that includes a new entryway for better park access, improved and expanded walking trails, and other traditional recreational amenities. With the goal of drafting a strategic plan that utilizes the input of the community and local university, the path forward will give the city and the surrounding communities a revitalized park to use for generations to come.

Yellow Jacket Interpretive Trail
In Jackson County, the St. Martin High School’s Biophilia Club is leading an effort to renovate existing trails and outdoor classrooms to act as a link with St. Martin Middle School and St. Martin Upper Elementary. Currently, students must use a busy road to access the other schools. After successfully constructing a new trail head, the club now hopes to continue its mission to educate and inform the community about the local environment through the new, safer trail connection. A major project goal is trail renovation and expansion as well as the creation of a trail task force. The task force will focus on the maintenance and caretaking of the improved trail and classroom facilities to ensure they will be continuously utilized by all three schools.

NORTH CAROLINA
French Broad River Master Plan
The French Broad River is one of the oldest rivers in the world and boasts scenic mountain views with plenty of water-based recreational opportunities throughout its 218 miles. In Transylvania and Henderson counties, the land trust Conserving Carolina is targeting an enhancement of recreational use for the Upper French Broad River. The final project outcome will be a community supported master plan that provide strategies for improving and expanding river access and signage. Once completed, the plan will help strengthen the headwaters region of the French Broad River State Trail by laying out additional access options for trail paddlers.

Gullah Geechee Trails
The Gullah Geechee National Heritage Corridor recognizes the unique culture of the Gullah Geechee people who traditionally resided along the coastal areas from Wilmington, North Carolina in the north to Jacksonville, Florida in the south. The Corridor aims to preserve and raise awareness of the Gullah Geechee Heritage through historic sites, local tours, traditional foods, cultural events, and art galleries. The Brunswick County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) seeks to further promote the corridor by establishing a multi-use trail that will link historical and interpretive sites while also providing healthy living and alternative transportation benefits. The new trail will connect with the East Coast Greenway and present an alternative route from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Wilmington. Working with the NPS, the project goal is to develop an overall conceptual plan that utilizes public and local government input. The plan will inform a routing approach for the multi-use trail that includes an outline for marketing and promoting the many historical sites along the 30+ miles of the trail.

Kings Mountain Gateway Trails
Originally started in 2009 and opening in 2011 with the assistance of the NPS, the Kings Mountain Gateway Trail feature over 7.5 miles of hiking and biking trails. Now, Kings Mountain Gateway Trail, Inc., the local non-profit that operates the trail, seeks to expand the trail system onwards to Crowders Mountain State Park in North Carolina and to Kings Mountain State and National Military parks in South Carolina. The project goal is to develop a community supported feasibility study that outlines alternative trail routes to reach the parks and fill in the “gap.” The study will indicate the best route to move forward with to begin the trail planning process and provide 30+ miles of regional trails.

SOUTH CAROLINA
Duncan Park
Constructed as a Works Progress Administration project in the 1930s, Duncan Park in Spartanburg features a lake, walking trails, and a 1926 baseball stadium. To better utilize the park as a local outdoor recreation hub, the local non-profit Partners for Active Living desire to compose a community based Revisioning Plan for the park and its nearby neighborhood. By undergoing the revisioning process, the park stands to deliver enhanced health, economic, and outdoor recreational benefits to the local community. Community members will have the opportunity to provide input as to how new and existing trails should connect as well as what new amenities will best serve the current local population. A friends-of-the-park support group will be developed to assist with implementation of the new Revisioning Plan, fund raising and park maintenance.

TENNESSEE
South Pittsburg River Park and Trails
The Town of South Pittsburg aims to develop a community-supported Trails Plan that identified opportunities for bicycle and pedestrian connections throughout the community and to the Tennessee River. In tandem with this effort is the desire to establish a new River Park that will provide access to the Tennessee River. In the fall of 2020, the City of South Pittsburg was selected to join 14 other communities as part of the Tennessee RiverTowns Program, an initiative of the Tennessee RiverLine Project. RiverTowns promote collaboration and create paddling, hiking, and biking opportunities along the 652 miles of the Tennessee RiverLine and by doing so, share in economic development and health benefits associated with the trail connection. The NPS will work with the town of South Pittsburg, the South Pittsburg Area Revitalization Quest (SPARQ), the University of Tennessee and W.M. Whitaker & Associates to engage the community throughout the design planning process.

Stones River National Battlefield and Gateway Trails
Nestled within the urban metro area of Murfreesboro, the Stones River National Battlefield offers visitors an opportunity to learn about one of the most important battles that took place during the American Civil War. The battlefield also connects to the robust Murfreesboro Greenway System and its 15 miles of hiking, walking, running, and biking trails. The national battlefield now seeks to develop a Comprehensive Trail Plan to address accessibility, connectivity to the gateway community trails, and the potential addition of a new trail at a parcel recently acquired by the NPS. The NPS will work with Murfreesboro and the local NPS park unit to seek community involvement in the process and develop a plan that benefits both the community and the park.

In addition to the 14 new projects, RTCA will work on three new consultation projects in Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina. RTCA is also continuing a progressive relationship with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist devastated communities in rebuilding and recovery efforts by providing technical assistance services in Louisiana and Puerto Rico.

Last updated: July 1, 2021