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A 200-mile trail through 27 towns linking North Alabama’s past with a bright future

As you stroll through picturesque Mooresville, you might forget what century you’re in. This beautifully preserved, shaded village was incorporated in 1818, the year before the nation was established. Its residents included future US President Andrew Johnson, and another presidential hopeful, James Garfield, also preached there. There is a sheep and tavern, and a small post office, opened around 1840 and still in operation.

However, few drivers visit this idyllic place. Most people drive past Mooresville on Interstate 565, less than a mile away, to the growing city of Huntsville. Dr. John Kvach, executive director of the Singing River Trail, says the Singing River Trail can restore these lost connections. The trail is a recreational greenway project with an epic reach, a pedestrian and bicycle path that winds more than 320 miles across the top of Alabama and includes historic sites in Mooresville and 26 other towns and cities along the route. and natural heritage sites.

This “green ribbon,” which Kvatch calls the Singing River Trail, connects northern Alabama, building physical and personal connections between communities and promoting business growth, health and wellness, and quality of life. , and promote mutual understanding. “That way we never forget about each other,” he says.

Mooresville Post Office (Sakara Smeby/contributor)

memory lane

John Kvach (Alabama Humanities Alliance/Contributor)

A surefire way to connect with the soul of a place is to learn about its past. And the Singing River Trail takes visitors on a journey through time, starting with the area’s first inhabitants. In fact, the trail’s name comes from the local Yuchee Indian description of the “Singing River,” or Tennessee River. The Singing River Trail is an early reference to Native American tribes, as it roughly parallels part of the tragic Trail of Tears, in which southeastern tribes were expelled from their ancestral homelands to Oklahoma in the 1830s and 1840s. It has been recognized as a cultural heritage trail.

But Kwach emphasizes that the Singing River Trail is not just focused on the Trail of Tears. Because it is only one side of the indigenous story. Instead, this trail will focus on the richness of the area’s Native American culture and history. They should also share broader “stories of the human condition” that touch on all eras of the state’s past, said Kvach, a former history professor at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and director of the Alabama Humanities Alliance. says.

“Highlighting our unique history and our composite history allows people to see the culture through different lenses,” Kvach said.

In doing so, the Singing River Trail would become a prime example of “public history,” or “public history” that introduces history outside of the classroom, which is how most people receive history education. Dr. Brian Dempsey, director of the University of North Alabama, explains. Public History Center. Public history includes everything from museums and living history centers to documentary films and podcasts. But projects like the Singing River Trail are particularly effective because they place people in the landscapes where important events took place.

“You can understand the story more deeply by actually being there,” Dempsey says. “What was it like for, say, a Cherokee family to have to march across this land in the winter? You get a more personal perspective. There’s an opportunity for empathy there.”

the root of prosperity

Interpreting the past in the present will also encourage future growth.

Mr Dempsey says public history projects bring tourism dollars into the local economy and “there is a clear return on investment in leveraging heritage sites”. (According to an analysis conducted for the trail, the Singing River Trail, when completed, is expected to have an annual economic impact of $26 million, create 100 permanent jobs, generate $866,000 in transportation, and Marketing their history can appeal to visitors, businesses, and potential residents. For proof, look no further than Huntsville, the city of Muscle Shoals and Rocket that is synonymous with musical heritage.

Muscle Shoals National Heritage Area (MSNHA) Director Dr. Carolyn Bursk Crawford said the Singing River Trail will create opportunities for sustainable economic development along the route, but small towns will be the most affected. He says it’s possible. Funded by the National Park Service and headquartered at the University of North Alabama, MSNHA supports heritage initiatives in six northwestern Alabama counties, including the planning of the Singing River Trail trail from Decatur to the Shoals. ing. She explains that the rural town will serve as a trailhead and important stop on the longest stretch of the Singing River Trail, encouraging restaurants, lodging, bike repair shops and other businesses. And interacting with travelers gives those communities an opportunity to share their own stories.

Dempsey said, “When people in small towns talk about what they value beyond beautiful homes and famous names, we see a rich tapestry of history that reflects the diversity of people and experiences.” I am. Both he and Crawford would like to see how the town expresses its past beyond traditional interpretive signage, perhaps through programs such as public art and walking tours.

“And they shouldn’t run away from the things that complicate our history,” Crawford says. “People appreciate authentic storytelling.”

Mooresville Stagecoach Inn (Red Sage/Contributed)

The road ahead

Kvach likens the process of building an interstate greenway to putting together a giant, complex jigsaw puzzle. He works with local governments to determine where newly constructed sections join existing trails, and identifies public easements, city parks, and state and federal lands that could serve as potential paths. (such as Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge). Small towns are eager partners, with some joining in to build sections of the route or renovate trailside main streets.

Ultimately, the completion of the Singing River Trail will depend on the voluntary participation of private landowners who can fill in critical gaps. “On average, properties with long trails increase in value by about 7 to 10 percent,” Kvach says. “When they hear that, they usually ask how soon they can get a road on their land.”

A total of 15 miles of the Singing River Trail will be open to the public by the end of 2023, and Kvaha said more than half of the trail will be accessible or under construction within 10 to 15 years. I’m guessing. He celebrated all the new additions and encouraged visitors to get off their bikes and explore Mooresville’s beautiful trails, play hopscotch in Cortland’s traditional town square, sample soul food in Layton, and enjoy other events along the route. I look forward to getting to know the community. He says stoking these genuine personal connections will help the town of Trail stay relevant and maintain its unique sense of place amid north Alabama’s rapid economic and population growth. I believe.

“It’s important for our community to hold on to what makes us different and the stories that got us to where we are today,” Crawford added. “Those are places people want to visit.”

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