Development along Terrapin Creek brings restrictions, opportunity
by Laura Johnson
Jun 22, 2012 | 3366 views |  0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Gary McCurdy stands on some creekside property on Terrapin Creek between Centre and Piedmont that he recently bought at auction. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
Gary McCurdy stands on some creekside property on Terrapin Creek between Centre and Piedmont that he recently bought at auction. (Anniston Star photo by Stephen Gross)
TERRAPIN CREEK — Gary McCurdy remembers the way people would gather at Terrapin Creek to fish and to play in the swimming holes when he was a boy.

Now 58 years old, he can still visit places along the creek where it seems time has done little to change the land. But change, he knows, is coming, so McCurdy is one of several people planning for it.

Last month, he said, he bought more than 35 acres of land at an auction where more than 240 acres of land, either alongside the creek or nearby, was sold. McCurdy said the most important piece of land he bought that day was a small slice of creekfront property of less than one acre.

“There is a higher demand for Terrapin Creek property right now than there has been in the past,” McCurdy said. “Their values are extreme, far more than normal.”

McCurdy, a land developer, said he personally owns about 500 acres of land in the area. He added that through limited liability companies, he owns more land which he will sell or develop.

According to McCurdy, property values are rising because of a lack of public access to the creek, combined with a growing interest in the natural resource. No longer is the creek just a destination for locals looking to fish and swim; it’s now a recreation destination for people from miles away who come here to kayak and canoe, according to local property owners.

Because of that, developers and entrepreneurs say, several lots just off the highway were divided into narrow creek lots — each 35 to 50 feet wide. Those small creekfront lots sold for about $15,000 each, according to Keith Baldwin, president of American Auctioneers in Centre, which managed the recent auction.

McCurdy said he plans to use the access spots as selling points for other plots of land. He said some of the other buyers plan to do the same. If developers can provide creekside access, their land is more likely to sell, he said.

McCurdy first purchased property on the creek in the 1980s because he enjoyed fishing and hunting along its banks. At one time creekfront property was passed down through generations from its original owner, he said, but that began to change about 25 years ago when little by little, pieces of creekfront property were auctioned off. For example, McCurdy said, the land sold at the latest land auction had been owned by one of those families, the Ellis family. The same family still owns acres of creekfront property, according to public property tax documents.

Attempts to reach the Ellis family this week were not successful.

In years past, the community used the private land as if it were public, McCurdy said. But now landowners there want more control. As a result, one popular boat launch location near Alabama 9 was closed to the public about a year ago when it came under new ownership.

Gene Motes began selling “creek lots” along Terrapin Creek about 25 years ago through his company, Gene Motes Auctioneers. Then, a 1-acre lot would go for about $3,000, and that was considered a strong sale.

Today, he said, a 1-acre lot on Terrapin Creek will sell for $30,000. The creek sales, he said, have been good for business.

Some say “paddling the creek” began to grow about 15 years ago when Terrapin Outdoor Center opened and began renting kayaks to customers. Since then a few other commercial properties have staked their claim in the Terrapin recreation market, and interest grew by word of mouth as more visitors paddled its current.

McCurdy developed one of the other commercial properties, Terrapin Creek Lodge. He said interest in the development has increased since it was built about five years ago.

The creek is also home to Larry’s Kayak Rentals, the Terrapin Creek Red Neck Yacht Club and the Chief Ladiga Trail Campground.

Between 7,000 and 8,000 kayak rentals are handled each summer at the Terrapin Outdoor Center, said owner Bobby Warren. Restricted creek access isn’t good for business and it’s not good for the community, he said.

“When you float the creek there is no place to put in and take out unless you go through an outfitter,” Warren said. “I guess really what it affects the most is the community.”

The lack of access and limited number of put-in locations along the creek has discouraged some paddle sport enthusiasts from using the creek, he said.

Terrapin stretches for about two dozen miles and has just three put-in locations, a couple of them so far apart that a paddler would have to spend a day on the water if he wanted to avoid trespassing on private property to exit the creek.

Warren said an additional public put-in location built beneath the Alabama 9 Ellisville bridge would be helpful.

“There are no good places to access the water now,” Warren said. “It would be a big plus.”

Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_Star.
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