Park plans could preserve Cahaba

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 18, 2005

As residents of north Shelby County deal with what many view as a defeat in the battle to protect the Cahaba River, county officials are developing a plan that could splash fresh hope on the efforts to preserve and promote the vibrant natural resource.

Operations are under way for a multi-million dollar park project planned along a stretch of the Cahaba River between Helena and Montevallo.

Shelby County recently came to terms with U.S. Steel on a deal involving the sale of 200 acres in the proposed area. The county will purchase the land at $1,000 an acre, according to County Manager Alex Dudchock, the first of several acquisitions laying the foundation for the county’s newest park.

Due to its large scale &045; the park would become the county’s largest outside of Oak Mountain State Park &045; it’s completion could be at least five years away, but the idea is still an exciting one for Ken Jackson, who is concerned with the more immediate impact of development along the river which runs behind his Southlake home.

Jackson and other residents of the Southlake community filled the chambers of the Hoover City Council meeting Monday night to oppose a plan for construction of 137 garden homes in a bend of the river near Southlake.

&uot;Can you imagine canoeing down one of the most thrilling natural resources in this area and seeing areas where fill dirt has been brought in over the banks, trees have been cut down and houses are every 60 feet?&uot; Jackson said Monday morning before the Hoover meeting.

Jackson, other Southlake residents and representatives of the Cahaba River Society and Shelby County voiced their concerns about what they view as the pollution of the river by runoff and silt from local development.

Much to their dismay, the council voted 4-3 to approve the rezoning request for about 60 acres of land to help settle a lawsuit with developer Charles Kessler. The city was sued by Kessler in 2003 after his property was deannexed by the city.

Representatives of Kessler and some city officials claimed the development would be closely regulated according to national, state and even city guidelines; but opponents cited concern that that may not be enough to protect the river.

Shelby County Commission Chairman Larry Dillard spoke Monday night in opposition of the development, which he said would &uot;affect everybody downstream.&uot;

Dillard also announced the county’s plans for the new park, which include walking trails, picnic facilities, a mountain bike trail, canoeing and boating opportunities, restrooms and parking.

Dudchock said negotiations are under way with at least two more landowners, Cahaba Forest LLC and Gulf States/Westervelt Realty Inc., to bring the county’s holdings to more than 300 acres of property near the river.

The park will have access points on the north side near Helena and on the south side near the Boothton, Pea Ridge and Montevallo area.

&uot;This is an opportunity the county sees to promote a buffer for the Cahaba River and also to give people access to the river,&uot; Dudchock said