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  • Writer's pictureTaylor Law

Alabama Legislators Target Hiking and Biking Trails


HIKING AND BIKING TRAILS IN ALABAMA FACE SB232

Sometimes, our state legislature puts forth a bill that makes people on both sides of the political aisle turn their heads and say, “Wait. What?”


SB232 AND EMINENT DOMAIN

SB232 is the latest example of just such a proposal. Basically, SB232 prevents the State, counties, and municipalities from using eminent domain to create recreational areas that include hiking and biking trails. The bill does not target any other recreational activities. The bill also requires that—if any property acquired by eminent domain ceases to be used for a public purpose—the property be offered for purchase to the prior owner or his or her heirs at the price that was paid for the property less any revenue generated by the property while owned by the governmental entity.


While the merits of eminent domain may be controversial at times, especially when it is used to benefit private entities, and whether the prior property owner should have a right to repurchase the property may be debatable, targeting public recreational areas that incorporate trails for hiking and biking is a real head scratcher.


Hiking and biking trails have been a tremendous asset to communities throughout Alabama, and the Wiregrass is no exception. Forever Wild attracts hundreds of hikers and bikers every week, as do trails at Troy University Dothan, Westgate Park, and ACOM. In addition to enhancing quality of life for citizens, hiking and biking trails make Dothan and the surrounding areas more attractive to new businesses.


ABOUT THE OUTDOOR INDUSTRY

The Outdoor Industry is a swiftly growing sector of the U.S. economy. Over half of Alabamians participate in outdoor recreation every year. Outdoor recreation in the state contributes $14 billion in consumer spending and $3.9 billion in wages and salaries. Outdoor recreation has become a way to diversify the economy while investing in the health and quality of life of residents. Counties that can leverage outdoor recreation experience population growth, increases in creative and entrepreneurial activities, and attract higher-earning residents compared to non-recreational counties.


THE DOLLAR-VALUE OF OUTDOOR RECREATION

Running, hiking, and biking are three of the top five outdoor recreational activities. Trails require relatively low-infrastructure development and can support a variety of activities and skill levels. Many hikers and cyclists are willing to drive more than 50 miles and stay overnight for several days with their families or friends to enjoy different trail systems. Additionally, there is a direct correlation between a property’s proximity to trails and the increased value of that property. Communities and regions can rely on these trends to increase the economic impact of trail systems and raise the profile of surrounding communities. In one community, 80% of the bike trail users were locals who did not ride before the trails were built. Now hundreds of users visit the trails each day, and the community has seen dramatically increased bike store sales and services. 



FINAL THOUGHTS

The bill does not curb perceived abuses of public domain. So why would the state legislature propose a bill such as SB232 to specifically prohibit hiking and biking trails? That’s a hard one to answer with anything other than: “Wait. What?”

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