13 June 2007
Canyon Center Ground Breaking Draws Crowd
By Anne Shumaker, Times Correspondent
Published June 12, 2007
Reprinted here in its entirety.
|Photo: GADSDEN TIMES | MARC GOLDEN
A bulldozer is used to
break ground at the Jacksonville State University Little River Canyon Center
ground breaking ceremony Monday near Fort Payne.
LITTLE RIVER FALLS - Pointing to a large bulldozer parked near the tent used for
Monday's ceremonies, Pete Conroy said the ground breaking for the Little River
Canyon Center was a "real ... not just a symbolic gold shovel event."
said, "That is the Jackson Company's actual machine. Work will begin in earnest
as soon as this ceremony is over."
Just a few minutes after Conroy spoke,
the crowd of more
than 150 supporters of the center was led in a
countdown "10, 9, 8 ..." etc. At that instant, bulldozer driver Ronnie Turner
lowered the blade and moved several cubic yards of soil to begin preparing the
land. The center's foundation perimeter was already marked with tall stakes
highlighted with bright orange and blue flags.
Conroy, director of the
environmental policy and information center at Jacksonville State University,
said, "This is a time of celebration - after many years of preparation. It took
many people working as a team to obtain the land, locate funding for the
building, develop the design."
Just at that moment, a low fly-over by a
U.S. Air Force jet was a real surprise - though a coincidence - and mentioned as
very appropriate by Conroy.
Conroy noted the building will be 25,000
square feet and will include National Park Service offices, an exhibit hall,
meeting space, classrooms and comfort stations.
The site will be the
headquarters of the JSU Little River Canyon Field School - which sponsors dozens
of activities, seminars and programs each year. "This has been a beautiful
location," Conroy said. "It will always be beautiful. Our structure will be
environmentally friendly. You can see that one of our geothermal wells has
already been dug."
The center's exterior will blend with the environment.
Dark wood and artificial stone will be used. The artificial stone will be very
similar in appearance and structure to real stone - but it will not be necessary
to "blast away a mountainside to obtain the stone," Conroy had explained in an
earlier program. Tightly-compacted strips of denim (recycled blue jeans) will be
used to insulate the walls and ceiling. The comfort stations will use very
little water. Heating and cooling systems will use geothermal
Both Conroy and JSU President William A. Meehan noted that the
Little River Canyon Center will be the best university-owned example of an
environmentally friendly building in the state.
Randy Owen, a member of
the Fort Payne-based country band Alabama and also a member of the board of
trustees of JSU, reviewed the names of many of the early families who settled
the area near the canyon. "I know that our ancestors would be proud of this
project, because they loved this scenic land."
Owen also praised the late
Congressman Tom Bevill for his efforts to promote cleanup of the canyon and to
support the inclusion of the canyon into the National Park Service of the
Department of the Interior. In 1992, the canyon was designated a national
preserve. During the summer months, the staff includes 15 park
Other officials making comments at the ceremony were state Rep.
Richard Lindsey, whose legislative district includes Cherokee and Cleburne
counties and a portion of DeKalb County; Lee Sentell of the state bureau of
travel and tourism, and Ron Sparks, state commissioner of agriculture and
industries. An earth-blessing invocation was led by Sister Laura, who leads the
Catholic Church in Fort Payne.
Two ardent supporters of hiking in the
canyon said they were pleased to attend the ceremony. Kelly Gregg, of JSU, and
Jason Shelton, of Pisgah, were wearing their very special shirts - which listed
an elite group, the Thru-Hikers. Their group of 25 began their hike in DeSoto
State Park and concluded their venture at Little River Canyon Mouth Park. The
trip was arduous so the group divided the journey into five weekend sessions.
Only three of the 25 completed all of the hiking event. Gregg and Shelton were
two of the three.
Warick Mann Woodall, the daughter of Cedar Bluff-based
historians Robert and Catherine Mann, drove from Birmingham to attend the
ceremony. She has recently donated many items from her late parents' collection
of historic Northeast Alabama artifacts to JSU. Much of the collection will be
displayed in the center's exhibit hall.
John Bundy, National Park Service
superintendent of the Little River Canyon National Preserve, said, "This canyon
has been here 2 million years. With the center, we'll be able to let everyone
know about this special place of great biological diversity."
emphasized the value of the center as a headquarters for learning about the
canyon - as well as an environmentally conscious construction.
ceremony, Jay Jenkins - one of the architects with the center's design firm,
Jenkins Munroe Jenkins - shared with Conroy, "I told the construction people
that it would be OK to cut a few pine trees if really necessary, but don't cut
the hardwoods - we'll just move our building and driveways a bit to save the
Jenkins will be on site several times each week to check the
progress of the construction.
The Eidson Company of Cullman won the
contract for the center's construction. The project is expected to take 18
months. Jackson Paving and Construction Inc. of Guntersville and Fort Payne is
doing the land preparation - as well as the storm drains, piping and
The center is located along Alabama Highway 35, just a few
hundred yards north of the bridge over Little River Falls and the Cherokee
County-DeKalb County border. A large sign noting the "Now Under Construction"
site was unveiled after the groundbreaking ceremony.
information about the LRCC may be obtained from the JSU Environmental Policy and
Information Center, 782-8010, or the Web site http://epic.jsu.edu. Architectural drawings of the LRCC are
displayed in the Little River Canyon Store and Grill - across Alabama 35 from
the construction site. ”
See story at the Gadsden Times's Web site: www.gadsdentimes.com
See photo displaying the construction site sign unveiled at the ceremony.
for news releases by using the request form at www.jsu.edu/newswire/request.