Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park officially open

HODGES – Hodges Police Chief Mike Franklin looked out over the sizeable crowd at Saturday’s grand opening of Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park and couldn’t help but smile.

Franklin, who also serves as the director of the park, has been part of the equestrian park project since its inception in 2005 and said it was a surreal moment to officially open the park for business.

“I’m so proud of this park and what I know it will do for our area,” Franklin said.

“There are many people who have worked very hard to make this possible and I am so thankful to each person who has played a role in seeing Rock Bridge Canyon Equestrian Park become a reality.

“I’ve never had a group of people come together and give their support to a project like this group has. Our town council, the RCB Equestrian Park board members, the staff, the land owners, our Hodges Saddle Club members, our citizens – they have all played an important role in this process and we couldn’t have done it without them.”

Tina Lawler, who serves as the activities director for RBCEP, said three phases of construction on the park were laid out in 2012, and the ribbon cutting on Saturday celebrated the completion of the first two phases, which were the most crucial in being able to open to the public.

Phase I of the project, which was completed in early 2013, covered 15 miles of the trail, the day-use pavilion, two bathrooms and the exit and access roads.

Phase II of the project, which was completed this month, included the completion of all 34 pull-through campsites, including four hook-up campsites; 52 stalls; two bathhouses that contain toilets, sinks and showers for overnight campers; an additional 12 miles of trails; and the equestrian center, which houses the RBCEP office, check-in center and campsite store.

Phase III, which Lawler said will begin in 2014, will include an arena for entertainment, cabins and the remainder of the estimated 55 total miles of equestrian, walking, hiking and biking trails.

“It’s been a long time coming for us to get to this day, and I’m glad we’re finally here,” Hodges Mayor Ed Crouch said.

“The idea for this park came about after we did an economic development study to see what we could do to improve tourism and economic development in our area.

“It showed that an equestrian trail would be the way to go for Hodges, so that’s what we went with.

“This project was all about economic development for the local community and recreation and tourism for the local community, so I want the local community to be involved in this project through things like gift shops, restaurants, horse rentals – anything that could be associated with the park.

“This park is for the community, as well as the many visitors and riders we will have, and we think it will really give a boost to the local economy and the economy across Northwest Alabama.”

State Rep. Johnny Mack Morrow, who is a former economics professor, echoed Crouch’s predictions.

“When Mayor Crouch brought this idea to me, I told him this was exactly what I had been saying we needed to do in this area all along,” Morrow said.

“Our area is beautiful and has so much potential for tourism. And when a tourism project comes into an area, that brings in new dollars, and professionals in the tourism industry say those dollars will multiply six times over. That would be huge for our area.

“The opening of this park signifies that we are ready to open up the doors to Franklin County and say, ‘Bring your tourism dollars to Franklin County because we’re ready.’”

Sandra Burroughs, with the Alabama Mountain Lakes Tourist Association, said their organization had high hopes for the park.

“I got involved with this equestrian trail when Johnny Mack called us and said we had to come see the area in Hodges where this park was going,” Burroughs said.

“As soon as we saw it, we knew this was going to be a big success. You have a jewel here that people are talking about already – not just in Alabama but across the Southeast.”

Franklin County Probate Judge Barry Moore commended the team of people who worked many hours on the park from its inception through the construction phases.

“This is a very special day for Hodges and for Franklin County,” Moore said.

“I’m anxious to see all the good things that will come from the hard work and innovative ideas these people had that are now becoming a reality.”

For more information about the park, campsite reservations or events, call 256-935-3499 or visit RBCEP online at www.rockbridgecanyon.com or www.facebook.com/rockbridgecanyonpark.

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