Singing River Trail gets grant to support expansion of trail from Decatur to Shoals

May 12—A new grant will help pay for a study to determine the best route for a greenway trail stretching from Decatur to the Shoals that would be part of the larger Singing River Trail proposed to run across north Alabama from Bridgeport to Sheffield.

"Our goal is to build a 150-mile greenway trail to connect Jackson to Colbert counties and everything in between," John Kvatch, executive director of the Singing River Trail, said Tuesday. "We're in various stages of planning and funding now for the project."

The trail system would connect to Decatur, and Kvatch said it will feature two trailheads, one on each side of the Tennessee River.

"We're still in the planning stages" to determine where the trail would enter and exit Decatur, Kvatch said. "We're exploring all possibilities to cross the Tennessee River." He said possible options include a cantilever bridge attached to the newer northbound bridge to carry pedestrians and bikers across the river, ferry boats and buses with bike racks.

The original Singing River Trail plan proposed connecting Decatur, Huntsville, Madison and Athens through a 70-mile cycling and hiking trail system across three counties. Now, when completed, the trail would stretch 150 miles, linking to other trail systems in eight counties in the region.

As part of its new partnership with Tennessee RiverLine, the Singing River Trail last week was awarded a $25,000 grant to support the expansion of the trail's master plan from Decatur to the Shoals. Kvatch estimates that the route study will cost $175,000.

The Singing River Trail's greenway trail system, combined with a river system like the Tennessee RiverLine, will provide opportunities for recreation, wellness and education, tourism and economic development, according to Kvatch.

"We're still in the planning stages on the western trail from Decatur to the Shoals," Kvatch said, adding that the trail system from Decatur to the Shoals would follow part of the Trail of Tears.

The Tennessee RiverLine is a continuous system of hiking, biking, and water trails along the 652-mile river from Knoxville to Paducah, with 203 miles of the Tennessee RiverLine running through eight north Alabama counties.

The complementary trail systems will be a catalyst for economic development, provide equitable access to outdoor recreation and showcase the region's natural and cultural heritage, Tennessee RiverLine Director Brad Collett said last week in announcing the partnership and grant at Rhodes Ferry Park.

"I can imagine a future not too far off where somebody can launch from an improved dock here at Rhodes Ferry Park, paddle a couple of days down to Florence, get off the Tennessee River, experience the great things that the Shoals community has to offer, rent a bike and ride back here to Decatur," said Collett a professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. "That is an unprecedented level of connectivity that communities would aspire for.

"For what you have going here with both of these projects that are entering into this partnership and this collaboration is truly unique and truly something that is historic."

Decatur City Councilman Carlton McMasters said that since Decatur's founding in 1820, "we've seen the river as a driving force for growth and a healthy community. We see the Tennessee RiverTowns Program and the Singing River Trail as an additional means to further the goals of attracting more visitors to Decatur."

Decatur was one of 15 communities located on the river that were selected last year for the inaugural cohort of the Tennessee RiverTowns Program.

Membership in that program is "a huge asset to the economic vitality of Decatur," and being part of the Tennessee RiverLine and Singing River Trail is "a way to tap into the growing market of recreational tourism," McMasters said

Alabama Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, also announced a $100,000 state budget appropriation for the Singing River Trail.

"It's going to cost a lot of money, it's going to take a lot of effort (by) a lot of communities but at the end of the day, I think we'll feel very gratified when we reach our ultimate goal," Orr said last week at the ceremony. He compared the proposed Singing River Trail to the Bill Sims Bike Trail, which has a 12-mile route linking Point Mallard to Wilson Morgan Park via Rhodes Ferry Park and downtown Decatur.

The Tennessee RiverLine and its principal partners, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Tennessee Valley Authority, awarded the community impact grant. or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_MAccardi.