City officially opens new Rail-Trail

The ribbon-cutting for the new Bessemer Rail-Trail. Photo courtesy of The Cutoff News.

The city of Bessemer’s new Rail-Trail is officially open. On a beautiful, spring morning, some 100 walkers joined with Mayor Kenneth Gulley and members of the Bessemer City Council to officially open the city’s first-ever Rails-to-Trails Multi-use at the Fairfax Avenue and 15th Street South. “This is just another great amenity for the residents of Bessemer to enjoy,” said Mayor Gulley. A short program was held prior the ribbon-cutting and included remarks from the Mayor. Pastor Sylvester Henderson of Ebenezar Baptist Church in Bessemer blessed the trail with a prayer. Bessemer’s “Rail-Trail” was once an elevated railroad line known as the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad that ran parallel to Highway 150, or 14th Street South in Bessemer, from 1946 to 1988. The line was abandoned in 1988 and CSX railroad donated the land to the city. A sign at the trailhead tells of the history of the former rail line. “The first time I saw these train trestles I thought, what a great spot that would be for a trail. I didn’t know at that time that we owned it, but when I found out, we started looking for ways to turn this into something to benefit our residents,” Gulley said. City officials have secured federal and state funding to convert the former railroad line into a multi-use trail. Partners on the project include the Alabama Department of Transportation, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Bessemer Housing Authority. Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood served as project managers. Forestry Environmental Services was the contractor for the project. Representatives from the Freshwater Land Trust, which is promoting the county-wide Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System, and the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham, which has provided $50,000 in funding for phase two of the trail, were on hand as well. Mayor Gulley thanked Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and Alabama Department of Transportation Director John Cooper for helping make funding available for the project. Gulley said he recalled meeting with state officials and questioning them about why the western portion of Jefferson County was not receiving funding other parts of the county were receiving. “I remember Mr. Cooper telling me that ‘no one asked’,” Gulley said. “I told him then, that is about to change. We’ve managed to secure grant funding in recent years to do projects like this and pave our streets. We’re going to continue to pursue funding to help better our city.” The first-phase of the trail stretches from Fairfax Avenue to Berkley Avenue, and includes the installation of new sidewalks along Fairfax Avenue. A second-phase of the project is expected to start later this year and will include the construction of a trail bridge over Berkley Avenue. A third phase is being planned to link the rail-trail to the Bessemer Recreation Center by way of a pedestrian bridge. City officials envision the trail eventually stretching from downtown Bessemer and to Lakeshore Drive, where it will connect with the Red Rock Ridge and Valley Trail System.