Alabama Forever Wild seeking to expand public-use land near Cahaba River
By STEPHANIE BRUMFIELD / Staff Writer
A property owner of 470 acres along the Cahaba River in Shelby County has accepted an initial offer by the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust to purchase the property. If finalized, the purchase would expand public access to the Cahaba River in the area from 312 acres to 782 acres, with Shelby County currently owning 312 acres adjacent to the proposed purchase.
Tim Webster, the current owner of the 470-acre property located between Montevallo and Helena, said he received an initial offer from AFW about two weeks ago and sent in his agreement to the offer this week. AFW has to get a second appraisal for the property before the purchase can be finalized, Webster said.
“If it comes back within 10 percent of the first appraisal, then the purchase will move forward,” he said.
Once closed, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would manage the property as a recreation area and nature preserve, according to Chris Smith, a state lands manager with the department.
The department would have a year to develop a management plan and get it approved by the AFW board of directors. During that year, Smith said the department would likely work closely with Shelby County officials to develop a plan together, because the county has expressed interest in partnering to develop the area.
Reed Prince, manager of facilities and general services for Shelby County, said the county is mainly interested in increasing public access to the river.
Prince also said there is “a lot of possibility for future generations” should the property be purchased by AFW. In the long run, he said the area could be enhanced as a tourist destination similar to Oak Mountain State Park, and a partnership with AFW would allow the county to make the necessary road improvements should traffic increase to the area.
Smith also mentioned the possibility of adding hiking trails, recreational trails and canoe entry points.
Helena Mayor Mark Hall spoke in favor of the purchase at a meeting with Alabama Forever Wild before an offer was made.
“We think it’s a good idea not only from a conservation aspect, but it’s also a tourism and economic development opportunity for us,” Hall said. “If AFW does purchase that property, then that could lead to a variety of tourism opportunities for us. We could be one of the gateways to that area.”
Webster said his interest in selling the property was to preserve its natural beauty.
“That section of the river would make for a great park,” said Webster, who grew up in the area. “I could chunk it up into small pieces and sell it for more money, but you can’t ever undo that. And it’s just not what it needs to be…. I’m trying to preserve some of the absolutely fantastic sections of the Cahaba.”