Anniston partnered with the Calhoun Area Metropolitan Planning Organization to commission a study by J.R. Wilburn and Associates outlining the best options for making the connection, said Jack Plunk, principal planner for the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, which administers the MPO.
The trails connections are a complex project crossing state, county and city roads, Plunk said. The Alabama Department of Transportation, the MPO, Calhoun County and the city will all have to sign off on the project, he said.
The study breaks the project down into three phases. Phase 1 would connect the mountain bike trail to Alabama 202 and Noble Street and has an estimated cost of $223,010. Phase 2 would connect Ladiga trail to Alabama 202. It’s estimated to cost $496,680. Phase 3 would connect Ladiga Trail to the Coldwater Mountain Complex and it’s estimated to cost $746,920.
Before the city starts the project it has to consult with ALDOT for its recommendation, take that recommendation to the city’s Planning Commission and then to the City Council for approval, Bennington said.
The city is already talking with the department, and he hopes to take a plan to the city’s Planning Commission within the next two months, Bennington said. Once the City Council has approved a plan, the city can go to the MPO to request its help.
The most critical part of the connection to the mountain bike trail is the 600 to 700 feet on Monsanto Road, Plunk said.
“It’s the Monsanto Road part of the whole thing that’s costly and will be the most critical segment,” Plunk said.
Part of what makes Monsanto Road improvements difficult is location, Plunk said. That segment of the street is both in Anniston and Calhoun County — the city-county boundary runs right down the middle of the road, he said. Municipal and county officials would have to approve and fund the work to make the whole project happen. In addition, although the improvements will be expensive, the project it is not within the jurisdictions of ALDOT and the MPO, Plunk said; they can’t help.
While city administrators are looking to connect the mountain bike trail to downtown, they also hope to buy property to extend the Chief Ladiga Trail, a 33-mile paved cycling path, into downtown Anniston. The eventual connection of all three would establish the city as a bicycling destination, said Toby Bennington, Anniston city planner.
“This is all part of a greater connection,” Bennington said.
The city received a $50,000 grant to identify the owners of property along a seven-mile-stretch from Michael Tucker Park to the Multi-Modal Transportation Center on Fourth Street. The park, near the northernmost limits of the city, is at the end of the Chief Ladiga Trail.
Meanwhile the mountain bike trail is heading into its second phase.
The first 11 miles of the trail temporarily opened last weekend to about 150 visitors, said Mike Poe, an officer of the North East Alabama Bicycle Association. Eventually, though, the plans include 60 miles of trails and could draw several hundred visitors any given week, he said.
While those first trails were being completed, another 11 miles of trail connecting to a five-acre plot of land on Monsanto Road were being plotted, Poe said. Work will get under way on that second 11 miles of trail this fall.
Riders will be looking for places to eat or sleep after their days on the trails, Poe said. A connection to Anniston would be an important part of getting them to stay.
“Part of the experience that makes it worth the trip for them (bikers), is to visit a cycling friendly community,” Poe said. “So, when they arrive at a place that has no biking facilities, nothing that really caters or accommodates their needs as a cyclist whatsoever, they’re still going to enjoy the trails but they may not really stay or spend much money or really have a reason to be in the community very much.”
Chief Ladiga Trail and Coldwater Mountain bikers probably wouldn’t be crossing from one trail to another, Poe said; the two trails use different types of bikes and require different skills. But bikers from both trails will benefit from the connection to downtown.
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.