Video provided by Hunter Nichols
The Cahaba is one of the most biologically diverse and beautiful rivers in North America, and it has tremendous potential to become a broadly valued local recreational asset and a nationally recognized ecotourism destination. The Cahaba Blueway initiative of The University of Alabama Center for Economic Development (UACED) is designed to remove the informational and physical barriers that currently prevent people from experiencing the Cahaba, and create a program that will draw people to the river from near and far. Creating the Cahaba Blueway will not only improve quality of life in nearby communities by enhancing access to green space, but it will provide expanded opportunities for hospitality and retail business, as we have seen in towns along similar "water trails" that already exist. Sustainably developing the Cahaba for recreational access will increase the river's value as an economic asset, and we believe this effect, combined with an increasing number of people who come to know and appreciate the river, will also lead to better conservation outcomes for this outstanding natural resource.
What We've Been doing
Working with multiple public and private partner organizations and with input from the public, we have developed a brand for the Cahaba Blueway and guidelines for standardized signage that communities can use when developing their own access points along the river. The brand will be recognizable and marketable. The signs will provide important and easy-to-understand location and safety information that will enable visitors to have an enjoyable experience. We have also developed guidelines for developing river access infrastructure that communities can use to design and construct access points that are safe, environmentally sustainable, and durable. A pilot project that we have completed at the Grants Mill Access in Irondale demonstrates the successful application of these practices.
Grants Mill Road Canoe Launch
On March 1, 2016, UACED joined The Nature Conservancy of Alabama, Cahaba River Society, Freshwater Land Trust, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, the City of Irondale, and other partners for a ribbon cutting event celebrating the new Cahaba River access improvements at Grants Mill. As a demonstration project for Cahaba Blueway site development best practices, these improvements provide a safe, durable, and environmentally sustainable access for canoeing and other recreational activities on the river. UACED is working with multiple partners in communities all along the Cahaba to create similar access points and to designate the first official Cahaba Blueway sites over the next year. The improvements at Grants Mill are part of the early development of the Cahaba Blueway program, which has been generously supported through funding provided by The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.
Bringing The Cahaba Blueway To Fruition
As UACED has developed these programmatic resources, we have been conducting outreach in communities up and down the river to educate local leadership about the initiative and to establish steering committees that will inform the implementation of the Cahaba Blueway system in each city and county. Through this process, we have identified a total of 30 prospective Cahaba Blueway access sites from Trussville to Old Cahawba, and all of these lie within lands that are currently publicly accessible. Eighteen of these sites have sufficient infrastructure (or will in the near future) to be designated as a Cahaba Blueway access point in an initial phase of implementation.