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13 June 2007
Canyon Center Ground Breaking Draws Crowd

By Anne Shumaker, Times Correspondent
Published June 12, 2007

Reprinted here in its entirety.

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."

He 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 energy.

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 rangers.

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."

Bundy emphasized the value of the center as a headquarters for learning about the canyon - as well as an environmentally conscious construction.

After the 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 trees."

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 paving.

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.

Additional information about the LRCC may be obtained from the JSU Environmental Policy and Information Center, 782-8010, or the Web site 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: .

See photo displaying the construction site sign unveiled at the ceremony.

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