Within six months, the city of Anniston plans to start construction on a new entrance to the biking trails on Coldwater Mountain to lure more cyclists and their wallets downtown.
The new trailhead, about a mile from downtown south of Alabama 202, will be on 62 acres of land the Anniston City Council voted Monday night to buy for $155,000.
With its location, plus planned space for parking and other amenities, city officials and mountain biking experts say the new entrance will help attract larger cycling events to Anniston. Also, the new entrance's proximity to downtown could make it more likely that visitors to Coldwater Mountain will stop by Anniston to spend money, they say.
The Coldwater Mountain trail complex encompasses 4,083 acres and 25 miles of trails. The new entrance will be on land comprising three parcels situated on the south side of the highway, opposite LaGarde Avenue, and just west of Glen Addie.
City Manager Brian Johnson said money for the purchase will come from the city's trust fund. The city bought the land from 202 Five, a general partnership. Anniston attorney William Jackson was listed in the contract as the authorized partner with 202 Five to sign off on the sale. An attempt Tuesday to reach Jackson was unsuccessful.
Johnson said construction of the trailhead is expected to start in the next six months. He added that money for the construction could come from grants or the city might perform in-kind services to do the job.
"This is a great step forward for the council," Councilman Jay Jenkins said of the purchase. "It is essential to downtown's success."
The city in recent years has focused on turning Anniston into a destination for cyclists as a way to redevelop the downtown area and stimulate the economy.
Jenkins said Coldwater's current main access point, the Coldwater Spring Trailhead near the water plant off of Alabama 202, is mainly accessed by people who exit off of Interstate 20. Using that route, they don't drive near Anniston. The only other official entrance is a small one off of Monsanto Road. Also, the main entrance is several miles from downtown, discouraging many from visiting and spending money while they're at Coldwater, Jenkins said.
"And there's no definitive directions of how to get to Anniston from there ... they just head back to their cars, head back to Atlanta, and never experience Anniston," Jenkins said. "It's critical to us to realize some of that revenue ... it's critical to us to have a primary entrance on the Anniston side."
Richard Edwards, trail solutions manager for the International Mountain Biking Association, which has assisted the city in development of the Coldwater trails, said the site now doesn't have the space needed to host large races and cycling events.
"This new trailhead is going to allow for large events to be hosted there," Edwards said. "There now is no room for equipment setups, buses ... multiple race promoters are looking to hold events ... there just needs to be a facility that's going to allow for all of that."
Edwards said big events bring in more people, which means more potential spending in Anniston, but they also help promote the area.
"Big events aren't just about people coming to them, they're huge, massive advertising for the trail system," Edwards said. "Even if people don't do the event, they'll read about it and maybe come later."
The new trailhead is just the latest development of the Coldwater trails. In February, the city received a $350,000 state grant to construct 11 additional miles which, Johnson said, should be completed by the end of the year for a total of 36 miles of trails at the complex.
"There is about 55 miles of total trails that we want to have," Johnson said.
Bobby Phillips, president of the Anniston-based Northeast Alabama Bicycling Association, said the expansion will make the new trailhead even more necessary.
"One of the things, as the trails grow, they'll get more truck trailers coming in for events and they'll need more space for those and for parking," Phillips said. "With the increased land, that will allow the city to do things at the site to accommodate trucks and make more parking availability ... this is definitely a good move for the future of Coldwater."
In addition to approving the Coldwater land purchase, the City Council Monday gave Johnson and city attorney Bruce Downey permission to execute any agreements necessary to acquire land for the city's planned Community Wellness Park between West 12th and West 17th streets. The park, construction of which is set to start later this year, will include a 12-foot-wide trail, along with exercise equipment and other amenities. It also could eventually link up with the final 7 miles of the Chief Ladiga Trail entering Anniston from Weaver.
The project will be paid for with $437,000 in Community Development Block Grants — part of a federal program to expand economic opportunities in low-income areas.
Downey said the city needs between 18 and 22 properties to complete the park. Downey said he could not reveal which property owners the city is dealing with because negotiations are still underway.
"The majority of the parcels have been donated, but it looks like we'll end up having to purchase a few," Downey said.