For the past three months, the Eubanks Welcome Center, just off the Chief Ladiga Trail in Piedmont, has recorded a record number of visitors. Most of the trail-goers came from Birmingham and Atlanta, but visitors from as far away as Pennsylvania and Washington have signed in, too.
“I see a diverse audience from students to out-of-town visitors,” said Pete Conroy, chairman of the Chief Ladiga Trail committee. “I’d like to say we have a profile, but we really don’t.”
Last July, a record-breaking 332 visitors stopped in at the center. That number was surpassed last month when 418 visitors from 12 states and Russia signed in there.
“More visitors signing up to the Eubanks Welcome Center means more visitors are coming to Piedmont and the trail,” said Jack Plunk, with the East Alabama Regional Planning Commission. “The numbers have been increasing regularly.”
May and June also were record-breakers for the center. In May, 542 visitors signed in, compared to the 357 visitors who signed in at the center last May. Of those, 19 were from other states. In June, 330 visitors stopped in, 17 from other states and one from Ireland. That’s up from 253 total visitors last June.
The 33-mile trail is paved and intersects with the Pinhoti hiking trail, which links to the Appalachian Trail. It also connects at the state line with Georgia’s Silver Comet Trail. Together, the Silver Comet and Chief Ladiga combine to create 95 miles of hard-surfaced trail, and make up the longest pedestrian pathway in the United States.
Conroy said there is little money dedicated to marketing the trail, but it has attracted attention from national outdoors magazines and has developed a Web presence. He said most out-of-town trail-goers hear about it by word-of-mouth.
Conroy also said the increased use of the trail is likely being driven by the general popularity of outdoor activities.
“I’ve been involved in eco-tourism for a long time, and interest in outdoor activities just continues to go up,” he said.
The center, located in a refurbished Victorian home, is decorated with antique furniture and local historic artifacts, according to Jack Holder, a volunteer director at the center. He said even though only a small portion of the trail’s bikers, hikers and walkers stop by, it’s evident to him that trail traffic is picking up.
Holder said the center attracts a unique group of visitors. Last week he chatted with a family of three from Philadelphia on a bike fitted for three. He cited similar experiences with visitors from Minnesota, Ontario and Michigan but confirmed that the greatest numbers of visitors at the center are professionals from nearby metropolitan areas.
“We run into people like that practically every day,” Holder said. “They’re good people, easy to get along with, and they’re just glad to be outdoors.”
Contact staff writer Laura Johnson at 256-235-3544.