Jasper is becoming one of Alabama’s best towns for trails and outdoor recreation

Jasper is becoming one of Alabama’s best towns for trails and outdoor recreation
The town of Jasper is gaining recognition as an up-and-coming recreation destination. Its newest initiative, Slow Spokes, aims to encourage more pedestrian and bike-friendly spaces downtown. (Liesa Cole)

Once a coal-driven community, Jasper has been hard at work rebranding the identity of its small town. The city wants to embrace a culture of health and sustainability and capitalize on a different resource: the great outdoors.

Its vision is to become a recreational destination and trail town, along the lines of a “mini” Asheville, North Carolina.

Jasper has a wealth of wilderness areas nearby like William B. Bankhead National Forest, Walker County Lake and Lewis Smith Lake, so all that’s required is turning ideas into action.

One of the big players at the helm is Jasper Main Street. The town received its designation as an Alabama Main Street Community in June 2015 and, ever since, it has been a big force behind a massive revitalization. Jenny Short, president of Jasper Main Street and a Jasper native, says becoming a Main Street Community was a game-changer that the town embraced wholeheartedly.

“As Mary Helmer (executive director of Main Street Alabama) likes to say, ‘Main Street works 100 percent of the time if you, the community, works it,’” Short said. “It’s been incredible to have their template to follow.”

A street in Jasper. Walkability increases the economic viability of a downtown and encourages those passing through to stop. (contributed)

Part of Short’s role is to oversee the implementation of the Four-Point Approach. This national strategy concentrates on the areas of organization, economic vitality, promotion and design. Using that as a blueprint, Jasper Main Street works in collaboration with city officials, community groups, local businesses and residents to address those issues first.

Most of the work happens behind the scenes, but significant improvements can already be seen around town.

As part of the urban redesign, new benches were installed, more trees were planted and wayfinding poles were added for easier navigation. In addition, the town’s first electric-car charging station was constructed. To date, more than $2 million has been spent on building rehab and new construction, and more than $1 million in grant funding has been allocated for public improvements.

But Jasper doesn’t want to stop at Main Street.

The latest projects are focused on connecting urban areas to the outlying green spaces. The town recently completed work on a new 31-mile trail with seven river access points. Over at Walker County Lake, birding platforms, nature trails and an archery park are the latest additions.

The town also introduced Slow Spokes, a ride-sharing initiative that Short says has been “wildly popular” and inspired community bike rides and hikes.

“We’re really trying to create a pedestrian-friendly, bike-friendly community … a Jasper that people really want to live, work and play in,” Short said. “A lot of this came from the community telling us what they want.”

Jasper’s town motto is “Working people, Working together,” and that’s proving to be the key to its success.

According to Short, the community’s efforts are bringing fruitful changes to the area. Tourism numbers have increased, more fishing licenses have been sold and the younger generation is showing a renewed interest in the area.

“Having supportive government,” said Short, “and champions within the community who are willing to get out there and work to make it different and better … that’s the recipe for making it all work.”

This story originally appeared on the This is Alabama website.

Related Stories