A proposed Pinhoti Trail spur in Heflin needs an environmental study and a public comment period before it can become reality, a U.S. Forest Service representative told a Cleburne County business group Thursday.
“Basically before we do anything on National Forest land — construct a trail, build a road, have any kind of timber activity, create a campground — we have to go through what’s called NEPA,” U.S. Forest Service Shoal Creek District Ranger Karen McKenzie told Leadership Cleburne County.
The National Environmental Policy Act requires the forest service to look for any endangered species that might be located or affected by whatever action is taken, according to McKenzie.
The leadership meeting was held at the Talladega National Forest Shoal Creek District Office near Heflin where Adam Dasinger, a proponent of the trail spur, showed the civic group a slideshow of the proposed footpath.
If approved by the forest officials, the Heflin spur will become an official link to the Pinhoti Trail — the longest footpath in Alabama. The 3.1-mile route would connect downtown Heflin to the Pinhoti Trail at the Shoal Creek Ranger station on U.S. 78.
Dasinger on April 2 proposed the spur trail to forest officials who fully supported his idea.
McKenzie said also that a cultural resource survey must be completed to make sure there are no old home sites or relevant Native American sites in the area that would be adversely affected.
Public notice is also required to gain residents’ opinion on the proposed trail because “this is public land,” McKenzie said. That can be done individually as well as through a public meeting where people can offer comments and concerns.
“I’ve got biologists, I’ve got foresters, I’ve got archeologists. I have a whole host of people that work for me. They gather information, they do surveys on the ground, they talk to the public,” McKenzie said.
After the environmental assessment is written it might suggest different alternatives to the proposed route that Dasinger is proposing.
“You never know what you’re going to run into, there may be Turkey Beard or something that we don’t anticipate along the way and it may require a change to the route,” McKenzie said, referring to an endangered plant found in Talladega National Forest.
McKenzie stressed that having the public involved in the decision-making process is important. If the environment is negatively affected, it’s hard to recoup those losses once disturbed.
She said the timeline for complex proposals is over a year, but this proposal, she said, should only take about three months.