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Black Belt to benefit from grant

A Federal Highway Administration grant of $340,000 to the Alabama Department of Transportation to enhance the development of the Black Belt Nature and Heritage Trail could mean more tourist dollars for Selma and Dallas County.

Congressman Artur Davis (D-Birmingham) announced the grant Friday.

The trail is designed to educate visitors about the “comprehensive Black Belt story” by shoring up tourists’ experiences at historical, cultural and natural sites in the Black Belt region.

“As the new tourism director, I am excited about the advancement Congressman Davis’ announcement will bring to our area, the heart of the Black Belt,” said Candace C. Johnson. “The funding will open many doors for Selma and Dallas County and will help bring first-time visitors to our area, allowing us to share some of the most important events in history. This will also strengthen Selma’s chances of becoming a National Heritage Area, which literally takes an act of Congress.”

A national heritage area is a place designated by Congress where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally-distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. These areas tell nationally important stories about our nation and are representative of the national experience through the physical features that remain and the traditions that have evolved within them.

Lauri Cothran, president of the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce, worked on the early portions of the project several years ago. The federal representatives wanted initially to create a nature trail through the Black Belt, similar to the bird watcher trails in North Alabama. However, once the group began studying the history of the Black Belt, they decided to combine nature and heritage.

“It kind of just grew because people realized this is really great stuff,” Cothran said.

These funds from the Federal Highway Administration will provide for promotion of the region’s historical and natural tourism through various programs, such as market research, a certified guide program, host training, interpretive panels, downtown walking tours, audio tours and video program, to name a few.

Although the trail follows 210 miles of U.S. Highway 80 through Lowndes, Dallas, Perry , Marengo, Hale and Sumter counties, Cothran believes Dallas County and Selma will receive their fair share of attention because Selma is the largest city in the region.

Cothran said she expects the grant to emphasize the importance of the completion of the trail and the interpretive center on the corner of Water Avenue and Broad Street at the foot of the historic Edmund Pettus Bridge.

The bridge, various celebrations and art events bring thousands of dollars into Selma now. Sales tax figures collected during the month of October, less lodging, gasoline and tobacco totaled $877,783.23, which was $8,136.80 more than last year’s October collections of $869,646.33. Among those events last month was the Market Day, an open-market of artists and artisans’ efforts along with entertainment.