Ground broken at equestrian park
HODGES – A large crowd turned out Friday morning to celebrate the official groundbreaking of a Franklin County tourist attraction that officials believe will be an important asset to the community in years to come.
Town, county and state officials broke ground for the Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park, which is a recreational area made possible through grants from the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs; the Resource, Conservation and Development Council; Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow; and Sen. Roger Bedford.
When completed, the park will include over 55 miles of equestrian, walking, hiking and biking trails; a 160-acre campground; an equestrian center and an arena for entertainment.
Friday’s groundbreaking was for Phase I of the project, which includes 15 miles of the trail, the day-use pavilion, two bathrooms and the exit and access roads.
Hodges Mayor Ed Crouch has been part of the plans for the project from day one and he said he’s excited to finally be at the groundbreaking stage.
“The economic study we had conducted six years ago to see what we could do to improve tourism and economic development in our area showed that an equestrian trail would be the way to go for Hodges,” Crouch said.
“All the years of hard work, planning, meeting, retooling, rescheduling and going to and from the drawing board have all been worth it. We see what a great asset this will be to our town and to the county as a whole. We see how much people will enjoy this place and how it will be a place for families and friends to all come together.
“It’s just great to see all the things you hoped and dreamed the project would be actually becoming a reality.”
The first time that reality was overwhelmingly evident was this past July when the RBCEP held their inaugural trail ride and had over 200 riders show up for the event.
“We knew right then we had something great one our hands,” Crouch said. “We’re excited to keep moving forward with our plans and get even more aspects of the park completed.”
Hodges Police Chief Mike Franklin, who has overseen the plans for the trail and its construction, said the trail has come a long way, even since the trail ride in July.
“People may think this is coming along slowly, but we’ve really been excited about the progress we’re making,” Franklin said. “We’re far ahead of our expectations, and we couldn’t be prouder of what has been accomplished so far.”
Crouch said the progress made on the trail has been due in large part to the cooperation of several state and county officials, including Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, Sen. Roger Bedford, County Engineer David Palmer and Probate Judge Barry Moore.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have these men on our side, helping us with grant funding and other necessary requirements,” Crouch said.
“I’m just proud we can all come together and work as a team to make something like this happen for Hodges,” Sen. Roger Bedford said. “I look forward to thousands of people coming to Franklin County to visit this park and leaving with nothing but good things to say about their time here.”
Probate Judge Barry Moore said he was proud of the town of Hodges for being such a positive influence in the county.
“I appreciate Mayor Crouch and the citizens of Hodges for stepping up to the plate and doing something that will be a major benefit for this county,” Moore said.
“I am proud to be a part of anything that will make Franklin County a better place for our citizens, and this is definitely one of those projects.”
Mitch Mays, director of the Franklin County Development Authority, said even though the RBCEP is mainly for recreational use, the economic impacts would be tremendous.
“This park will be good for Hodges and the county in terms of revenue that will come into the area through the use of the park or tourists who will eat and buy gas here,” Mays said.
“From an economic standpoint, the theory is that every dollar that comes in will turn over seven times. If that’s the case, this park will have a significant economic impact on the area.”
Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow agreed the economic impact would be great for Franklin County.
“I served as the chair of the House Tourism Committee for 14 years and I realized we looked at economic development as Honda plants – we overlooked tourism,” he said.
“When Ed [Crouch] came to me about this project, I wasn’t so sure about it, but one thing the town and the officials can be commended for is for believing that… if you build it, they will come.
“The demand is here for this type of project and I think we’ll see the economic impact explode here in Hodges.”
Sandra Burroughs, with the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, said what Hodges is doing is unique to the state.
“There is not anything close to this in Alabama right now,” Burroughs said, “so the town of Hodges is literally blazing a trail for the state and we are proud to support you and your efforts.”
Crouch said Phase II of the trail includes the equestrian center and the camp sites and they hope to get started on those projects in the coming weeks and complete them by the spring of 2013. Phase III will focus on the arena, the cabins and the remainder of the trails.
Tina Lawler, who serves as the activities director, said those interested in the RBCEP can keep up-to-date with the park’s progress through their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/rockbridgecanyonpark.