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 L.C. Hall, left, and Jo Carter listen to Lawrence County Engineer Gordon O'Neal explain how far the county can pave Leola Road with existing funds following a public hearing at the Lawrence County Courthouse. People speaking at the hearing expressed overwhelming support for paving the road.
DAILY Photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
L.C. Hall, left, and Jo Carter listen to Lawrence County Engineer Gordon O'Neal explain how far the county can pave Leola Road with existing funds following a public hearing at the Lawrence County Courthouse. People speaking at the hearing expressed overwhelming support for paving the road.

Leola Road paving project could move forward in 1 month

By Clyde L. Stancil
DAILY Staff Writer

cstancil@decaturdaily.com 340-2443

MOULTON — From her nursing-home room, an elderly Leola Road resident told a visiting L.C. Hall about one of her reasons for living.

"She said, 'I hope I live long enough to see that road paved,' " Hall told an audience of about 50 people at a Thursday evening public hearing.

Her wish is one step closer to coming true. It has nothing to do with the fact that all but one of the 50 people in attendance were in favor of paving the 15-mile stretch through the Bankhead National Forest, known locally as Leola Road.

"It's not a voting contest," Mack Lovelady, assistant county transportation engineer with the state Department of Transportation, said about the hearing. "We had to document that we did give people a chance to give their opinions."

A stenographer will record the written and spoken comments from the hearing and send them to Lovelady, who will forward them to the Federal Highway Administration for approval.

"When we get that (report) back, we can notify the county to start negotiating with property owners (for rights of way)," Lovelady said. "It should be no more than a month before we get it back."

That's good news for residents who have been eating the dust from Leola Road for decades, and expect it only to become dustier.

Jo Carter, a 30-year Leola Road resident, said someone recently sold 400 acres in the forest, and the new owner began developing it.

"So the place is growing, and we need the blacktop," she said.

A smoother ride is long overdue, for more reasons than the daily dust clouds that the gravel road produces.

"We feel that not paving the road will take away from quality of life," Myra Ritch said. "Our cars tear up easily, and the road washes out when it rains. The road (also) has a lot of runoff."

Ritch also said the lone resident who opposes the gravel project lives two to three miles off the road and does not have to deal with the hazards. She was referring to Dr. Charles Borden, a lifelong Bankhead resident who maintains that Leola Road is part of the historic High Town Path.

Borden said at the hearing that the Forest Service is guiding recreation in the National Forests toward primitive usage.

"This project will be in direct contradiction to that," he said.

Not so, said Bankhead District Ranger Glen Gaines, who added that a paved road would give people better access to participate in what the Forest Service calls "Dispersed Recreation." That includes activities such as hiking, camping, horseback riding and bicycle riding on Bankhead's trail systems.

"One of the purposes of the forest highway system is to enhance public access to the National Forests," Gaines said.

Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Vicki Morese likes the idea.

"It will make the Bankhead more accessible for tourists, which in turn is going to have an economic impact on our county," Morese said. "We're not looking to make the Bankhead a Disney World. We're looking at making this road accessible."

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