Trails park has a bumpy ride in development
Aug 11, 2013 | 4085 views |  0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jesse Franks and Taylor Goss of Pinson ride a four-wheeler around Top Trails Saturday. The two drove over from Birmingham to ride the extensive trails at the facility.
Jesse Franks and Taylor Goss of Pinson ride a four-wheeler around Top Trails Saturday. The two drove over from Birmingham to ride the extensive trails at the facility.
It seems the path toward completing development of the TOP Trails outdoor park has more bumps in it than the off-road vehicle trails that are the park’s main attraction.

Just getting development started took years of work, plans, coaxing, the opportunity to get government grants for development and a fair amount of political wrangling.

The Talladega County Commission had the first opportunity, but never developed a plan for the land. The National Park Service rejected the commission’s proposal to transfer the property to the county Board of Education for educational use, and asked proposals from other entities, including the cities of Lincoln and Talladega.

Lincoln proposed a park for off-road riding, which made a great deal of sense. Quite a few people enjoy trail riding and off-road vehicles and look for places to ride. Many had already been trespassing to ride on the property. The Cheaha Trail Riders club also learned of the property and helped develop plans for a park, excited at the prospect of having more trails to use close to home.

Lincoln’s proposal was accepted, but the city of Talladega argued against being excluded, due to the proximity of the land to the Talladega city limits. A legislative resolution created the Public Park Authority of the Cities of Lincoln and Talladega, with board members to be appointed by each city.

A five-member board was appointed, grants were awarded, and trails were designed and improved as the starting point of an ambitious ten-year development plan.

Now in the third year of development, more bumps have come into the picture. The park board has depended primarily on money from timber sales and grant money to make improvements at the park. Although about $1.5 million in grants have been awarded, that doesn’t mean the park has that much money. The board must first spend money on projects spelled out in grant applications, and then apply for reimbursement for money already spent. That’s why the money from timber sales was so important — it has been the seed money to get things moving. Checks from those grant reimbursements have been used to keep things going until the flow of grant reimbursement funds hit a snag. An expected six-week turnaround time had become six months or longer.

Concerns by some of the board members about the amount of money charged for development by the Professional Services Group C.D. Roberts Associates, and about the problems with getting the grant money led to increased scrutiny. Those at the Roberts firm felt the board was failing to follow the development plan, and felt the board was unfairly scrutinizing them.

Chuck Roberts, owner of the development firm, was prohibited from direct contact with the board for two years because he had previously served on the board. That impaired communications on the project.

Misunderstandings about communications with the grant-administrating agency ADECA also became an issue.

Last week the board and Roberts’ firm agreed to part ways, using a 30-day separation agreement in the contract to sever relations.

Meanwhile the board is counting on receiving about a half-million dollars in grant reimbursement revenue to continue development, and grants have already been approved for several hundred thousand dollars more. In addition to that, Roberts’ group has already applied for three more grants that, if approved, would open up another $800,000 in development funds.

Along with Roberts’ departure from the project, the park’s director has resigned, and three board members’ terms are ending in September.

Despite the bumpy ride, progress is still being at the park. It remains open for riders seven days a week for a $5 entrance fee. Wes Pope, who has worked on the ground on development, is now the interim director, and further developments at the park offer a variety of opportunities for recreation for years to come.

As noted by Roberts’ attorney, George Monk, at last week’s meeting, if the people interested in the park will stop pointing fingers and start pulling together, it can become a reality.

The newest member of the board, Buster Taylor, commented at his first board meeting this summer that the park was simply experiencing growing pains.

In spite of some of the bumps experienced along the way, we see the project as one with great potential and a bright future.