By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Upset at the idea the Cullman County Board of Education might sell or develop a large piece of valuable property on Smith Lake, local resident Peggy Hill has nominated the land for purchase by the Alabama Forever Wild Land Trust preservation initiative.
Hill opposed the school board’s 2012 campaign to gain control of the Section 16 property, which was set aside for school use by the federal government more than 100 years, and argued the land should remain undeveloped under state stewardship. After Cullman County voters approved a November 2012 referendum by 67 percent to give the school system control of the land, she submitted it for consideration to Forever Wild.
The school system’s plan is to sell or develop the property, then place 90 percent of the revenue into a trust to create a new, long-term funding source. The vote also gave the school system control over 321 acres in Joppa and 122 acres in Chigger Ridge, though the Smith Lake lot was the only one Hill entered for consideration.
Despite the results of the election, Hill said she believes the property still needs to be preserved. Her hope is that Forever Wild will agree and approach the school board about buying the property and turning it into a nature preserve. The Forever Wild trust has no authority to take the property, and could only offer to buy the land.
“After the election turned out the way it did, which I was disappointed about, I decided the Forever Wild program would be the best thing for it,” Hill said. “It’s really a win-win for everyone. It was set aside for the benefit of the children, and this way the schools can get their money and the land can serve the purpose it was set aside for. That property is just really spectacular and such a natural beauty.”
Hill has started a website (http://www.savesmithlake.com) to promote the cause.
“We’re looking for people to get involved and get the word out,” Hill said. “I think if we could have that option to have it preserved, and still have it help the schools.”
The board of education has yet to decide what approach it will take to sell or develop the property. The board hopes to establish an advisory board of community members soon to draft an action plan.
Cullman County Board of Education Superintendent Billy Coleman said the board would likely be open to any option that would best serve the system, and would be willing to talk with Forever Wild if an offer is ever made.
“We’re really early in the process of forming our committee, but we’ll be open to anything and listen,” he said. “Our number one objective is to do whatever is best for our school system. More than anything, we’re committed to managing this property in the best interest of our students.”
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.