MONTLIMAR CANAL GREENWAY:  EXPLAINING THE CONCEPT AND COMPARING IT TO OTHER FINISHED PROJECTS

 

Michael H. Olmstead, Jr, Department of Earth Sciences, University of South Alabama, Mobile, AL 36688.  E-mail:  michaelolmstead@hotmail.com. 

           

The Montlimar Canal drains one of most heavily traveled areas in the City of Mobile, Alabama, and people do not seem to know that it even exists.  Thanks to the initiative of a few people in the City of Mobile, a one-mile trail on the bank of the Montlimar Canal has been transformed into an urban greenway for people to enjoy.  With this one-mile trail completed, I propose that the city extend the greenway across Airport Blvd. next to American Café and construct a ¾ mile new greenway that will end at Springhill Memorial Hospital.  This project may be more expensive than the original one-mile trail but will be more traveled by hospital personnel during breaks or getaways from the office.  In order for this project to be successful, members of the City Council and public works areas must approve such a project and funding sources must be available.

            Keyword:  Mobile, greenway, urban geography

 

Introduction

 Greenways are quickly becoming a common scene in many urban setting.  These hiking/walking and biking trails not only provide a place for people to get away from the chaotic world of city living but also the opportunity to become more involved in protecting their local watersheds.  This project will deal with extending the Montlimar Canal Greenway and comparing the city of Mobile, AL to other cities that have created successful greenway projects (Fig. 1).

In the beginning, the Montlimar Canal was just a waterway within an urban area with overgrown grasses and served no purpose but to drain rainwater from the City of Mobile and dump the water into Dog River.  However, with the initiative of people such as Dr. Mimi Fearn, Former Senator Ann Bedsole, and other City Council members, a plan was developed to build 50 miles worth of trails that connected the Mobile area and rejuvenated the Dog River Watershed.  This plan was dubbed the “Tri-Centennial City Master Plan for Green spaces” (Adams 2000).  However, the only section of this 50-mile trail system that was completed was the one-mile section from Airport Blvd. To Michael Blvd. (Fig. 2).  The big deal here is that the city did not fund this project, it was fully funded by ATOFINA Chemical Company (which was later taken over by Arkema Group) as part of a supplemental environmental project they had to complete as part of a court order (USA vs. ATOFINA 2002).  This court order further specified that no other outside funds would be used to supplement the project; stating the financial burden was on ATOFINA.  This is perfectly fine until it comes to extending the project, and then the city would need to put out money for the completion of the trail.    

            Another factor that hinders many greenway projects is funding.  The use of state and federal funds is not well known to most people in a community.  According the National Park Service’s website on Greenway and open space projects, a site in Virginia has received in excess of one million dollars in funding to create a Green space (National Park Service 2004). In another article, Dolesh (2003) describes how this same National Park program (Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program) provided many grants to many cities across the US to protect waterways.

            However, the number one issue that withholds community involvement in planning the building of a greenway is that most people have no idea what a greenway is or what purpose it serves.  According to Noel Grove (1990) a greenway is a “corridor” that exists within a city that is used for “improving recreation, aiding wildlife migration, and protecting scenic regions”.  Recreation greenways can provide ways for people to hike, bike, or even just walk to get away from the city streets.  The most popular movement in greenways is creating them in order to improve physical fitness in particular areas of the country.  This movement is called:  Active Living by Design (ALBD 2005). 


Research Question

With the one mile section of the Montlimar Greenway already built, what would it take to extend this trail ¾ mile to Springhill Memorial Hospital.  Also, what can the city of Mobile, AL learn from other cities that have created successful Greenway projects along their waterways.


Methods

There were three methods used to collect the information needed to complete this project.  These methods are: 1) Internet and library searches on greenways and information on other cities’ greenway projects, 2) e-mail and verbal communications with Dr. Fearn, John Bell and Terry Plauche, 3) finally I visited the Montlimar Creek Fitness trail several times in order to take pictures and assess the possibility of extending the trail.  The most time consuming of the methods was obtaining responses to e-mails and phone calls that I made to particular individuals that would have a high stake in creating the new trail.

Results

 The first major issue that needed to be resolved is to find out if the new ¾ mile trail from Airport Boulevard to Springhill Memorial Hospital is possible.  The City of Mobile Director of Public Works John Bell answered this question definitively.  In an e-mail response, Bell stated, “if funding was not an issue, the 3/4 mile section which you referenced would be possible.   Moving on as if this statement was a confirmation for building the new trail, there comes the question of how to fund such a project.

Now that the trail has the potential of being built a big question is how will people move from the fitness trail on the south side of Airport Blvd to the new trail on the north side of the road.  There are three potential ways to get across airport, these are:  a walkway under Airport using the concrete apron, a walkway over Airport, or a crosswalk with holding areas in the median areas for people to wait for a chance to keep crossing.  All of these options have obstacles, for instance, the area under Airport is too shallow to build a walkway, it would be too expensive to build a walkway over the road, and a crosswalk poses a potential danger to pedestrians trying to cross during heavy traffic times. 

Numerous federal, state, and local government as well as private company funds are available for communities to apply for to build greenways.  A major source for this information is the National Park Services Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.  The NPS provided over $2 million in funding for a project in Virginia.  This program also gives communities an exact outline of what they need to do in order to receive and keep money for trail projects.  Attached to this website there is a list of government and non-profit agencies that give away money for greenway projects. 

Another great program that has been created to improve health and fitness in the United States is the Active Living by Design campaign.  This organization has helped fund trails in about half of the US and is planning to extend the program.  An example of this project is the Tri-County trail system in Charleston, SC.  The counties:  Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester, are in the process of building a network of trails that all connect creating a big circle through the counties.  The only purpose of this project is to promote physical fitness in the area (ALBD 2005).

The best way for the City of Mobile to find out what other cities have done to implement greenways into its master plan is to learn from other cities.  The two cities I chose to use as examples for this project are Charleston, SC and Indianapolis, IN.  The official website for the City of Charleston Department of Planning and Neighborhoods (2005) has clearly stated goals for use with new and rejuvenating neighborhoods.  Among these goals are:  “provide larger district parks, provide neighborhood parks, continue efforts to provide unique waterfront parks, expand park connectors like greenways and bikeways, and utilize city park areas as community centers”.  Not only does the city have these goals but they have joined with the Active Living by Design campaign to increase the over all fitness and health levels of the area residents. 

On the other hand, Indianapolis, IN has implemented a major greenway project, but it did not begin until studies were completed on how people would use the public space.  This particular project by Lindsey, Maraj and Kuan (2001) used surveys to eventually calculate what most people would use the greenway for and it determined what races and education level of people would access the trail.  An article by Lindsay and Knapp (1999) stated that the City of Indianapolis, IN has an entire department called the “Greenways Division of Indianapolis Parks Department” and these people are in charge of bringing greenway plans to life.  In Lindsey’s and Knapp’s (1999) study it was found that greenways boost property value and help prevent floods, however, most green spaces become sources of city revenue.  With respect to green spaces taking away from the budget, Lindsay (1999) says, “greenway development will require extensive, ongoing public education programs at the grassroots level…”

In Comparison to what these two cities have done to foster the growth and implementation for greenways, the City of Mobile has nothing within the planning department pertaining to goals for green spaces in the city.  The closest department that the City of Mobile has is the Parks and Recreation Department, which is in charge of the up keep of the current one-mile trail.  As far as keeping the trail clean, this department has clearly failed in its attempts.  As can be seen in Figures 3 and 4, there is a lot of litter and the grass near the trail is overgrown to the point where one cannot even see the canal from the trail. 
   

Conclusion

 It can easily be seen that the City of Mobile needs to implement a division within the Parks and Recreation Department devoted solely to city greenways.  This department would be in charge of finding funding sources (be it local, state, federal or private) and take control of the cleanliness of the green areas of the city.  I’m positive that if this department was implemented more than one-mile of greenway would be created.

            If a moderately sized city such as Charleston, SC can become part of the Active Living by Design Campaign why can’t Mobile, AL?  All it takes is initiative and the support of the community.  However, support just doesn’t jump out of the woodwork, it takes hard work and the willingness to be told no and be able to rebound and try to get people to support city greenways.  If people are told that these trails will raise land values and offer a place for them to get out and enjoy the outdoors and at the same time have a part in helping a degrading watershed then they will be more likely to not only support but also use the greenway.  In the end as Lindsey (1999) stated, “Successful greenway development will require extensive, ongoing public education programs at the grassroots level…”    

 

References Cited


Bell, John.  3 April 2005.  E-Mail response.  re:  montlimar canal greenway”

 

City of Mobile, Alabama.  City News.  “Greenway Project”.  April 30, 2003.  http://www.cityofmobile.org/html/departments/press_releases/articles.cgi? action=fullscreen&primary_key=229   Accessed:  25 March 2005.



Dolesh and Richards. Sep2003.   Blueways and Greenways, Connecting Communities.  Professional Geographer. Vol. 38, Issue 9.

 

Fearn, Mimi. 2000.  Proposal for a Greenway along the Montlimar Canal.  Dog River Clearwater Revival. 

 

Lindsey, Greg; Maraj, Maltie; and Kuan, SonCheong. Aug2001.  Access, Equity, and Urban Greenways: An Exploratory Investigation.  Professional Geographer. Aug2001, Vol. 53 Issue 3

 

Lindsey, Greg and Knapp, Gerrit.  Summer 1999.  Willingness to Pay for Urban Greenway Projects.  APA Journal.  Vol. 65, No. 3.

 

National Park Service.  1 March 2004.  Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.  .  < http://www.nps.gov/phso/rtca/03annual_report_greenway.htm> Accessed:  23 February 2005

 

Projects for Public Places.  Urban Parks Online.  “Funding Sources for Greenway Projects”.  http://www.pps.org/topics/funding/greenway_sources Accesssed:  25 March 2005.


Proposed Dog River Clearwater Revival Hike and Bike Trail.  1/17/2001.  Aerial Photograph.  City of Mobile GIS. 

 

Terraserver.  2002 Aerial Photo of the Montlimar Canal.  <www.terraserver.microsoft.com> Accessed:  8 April 2005.

 

United States of American v. ATOFINA CHEMICALS, INC.  August 5, 2002.  Civil Action.  United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  No. 01-7087.