‘Rail to trail’ project moving ahead

Published 12:28 am Saturday, May 19, 2012

Progress is being made in a “rail to trail” mission that would convert 42.9 miles of abandoned CSX railway lines in Covington, Coffee and Geneva counties into a recreational trail.

Earlier this year, the tracks throughout the section were removed. Debbie Quinn, chairman of the Alabama Trails Commission (ATC), said the commission has filed paperwork – including two grants – to bring the project whose corridor runs between Andalusia and Geneva, to completion.

She said the ATC filed a notice on behalf of the three counties – and the seven communities found within – asking the federal government to grant interim trail use for the property. Now, the state commission has asked CSX, the property owners, for a survey and an appraisal so that the counties and communities involved can acquire the property for trail development.

“What that (first filing) did was give us a pass to be able to look to see if we can move forward with getting the trail line,” Quinn said. “The Alabama & Florida Line has abandoned the line. The easement and the property belongs to CSX, who is in agreement with us to work on moving forward with the rail trail.

“Now, we’re in negotiations with CSX to acquire those easements so we can move forward with the project,” she said.

But, nature enthusiasts aren’t waiting for a formal trail to be established, she said.

“Now that the rails are up, I’ve heard people are already using the property as a trail,” she said. “That’s not technically legal, but it’s a great surface for horseback riding and the like. A&F (the rail line) did a good job taking up the rails. They even went back and did some grading, so it’s not in terrible shape. But, legally, it still is private property.”

That leaves the trail commission waiting to assist those involved in acquiring the property so that work can begin.

“There’s nothing really we can do until we get that paperwork in hand,” she said speaking of the requested survey and appraisal.

Quinn said two separate grant proposals for federal funds will be submitted next week, which – if funded – will grant money to purchase the property’s easement.

“If and when we get to that point,” she said. “Even if we get the grants, it doesn’t commit anyone. We still have to figure out the grant matches and how much that might be. There’s no price from CSX yet.”

Quinn said the ATC has asked CSX for a survey and appraisal of the property.

“All in all, we’d love to see the project under way – and this is a very conservative estimate – in a year,” she said. “We feel it is such a unique opportunity for this region of the state to obtain this corridor for a RailTrail but it’s also a great asset to the state and the region for tourism.”