April 9, 2008 Edition

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Rail-Trail project moving forward

Rails to Trails Committee Chair Lewis Slaughter (left) and committee member Lee Turnbull discuss progress on the project during a meeting Thursday afternoon.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt
Gretchen Hunt

The Lawrence County Rails to Trails Committee has been steadily continuing efforts to fund the transformation of the former rail spur into a walking and biking trail for county residents and visitors.

The most recent success is an $80,000 grant from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. The grant, which is federally-funded, is administered by the AHTD.

A portion of the land donated by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company was used for the 80-20 required match.

According to County Judge Alex Latham, the new grant is what is referred to as a pass through grant. The expenses have to be paid first, most likely by the county, as "owner" of the rail-trail, then a reimbursement will be issued from the grant funds.

The $80,000, along with $40,000 that has already been received in the form of an Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism grant, will allow for a large portion of the trail to be paved.

The first stretch of paving, from the trail head at Hoxie to Midway Road is expected to begin soon, Brett Cooper, a member of the committee, said.

Prep work on the trail is being completed by the county.

Cooper said the original $40,000 grant, which is already in hand, will pay for the first phase of paving.

From Midway, the committee hopes to get as close to Rebecca Lane in Walnut Ridge as possible with the $80,000 and expected funds from a second Arkansas Parks and Tourism grant that has been applied for.

"We are optimistic we will be receiving that second grant," Cooper said. "All indications are positive."

The committee is also in the process of applying for another AHTD grant, which would be designated for developing a park at the trailhead with possibilities including a pavilion, benches, restrooms and more.

Lewis Slaughter, chair of the committee, said the process can be slow, but the funding is beginning to come together and progress should be more visible soon.

Other committee members include: Junior Briner, Sherry Moore Lee Turnbull, Craig Stone and Sue Whitmire. Hoxie Mayor Donnie Roberts and Walnut Ridge Mayor Michelle Rogers are also involved in the project.

Slaughter said the committee has also received support from State Rep. J.R. Rogers and Portia Mayor Dale Freeman, including their assistance in hand-delivering grant applications.

"We have four grants going at once," Slaughter said. "We're pleased with how things are going."

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