ALMA – During his State of the City Address earlier this year Alma Mayor Jerry Martin announced the city would host a new and improved Fourth of July celebration dubbed the Alma Liberty Festival.
On Tuesday Martin, speaking at the monthly lunch meeting of the Alma Area Chamber of Commerce, talked more about the July 6 event as well as some other projects he hopes will not only enhance the festival, but also the city’s revenue income and its residents’ quality of life.
Among those projects are an all-inclusive park in downtown Alma, the region’s first dog park and upgrades to the trail system and disc golf course at Lake Alma.
“Once we get all of this complete and in place – and the vision is a two- to three-year plan – that our festival will go from a one-day festival to three days that would include a disc golf championship and some sort of a mountain bike competition on the trails and some sort of a grand prix running event that we could all host and make a part of our Liberty Festival that would actually be capped by a fireworks display,” he said.
The whole point is to have things the citizens can use and enjoy and that others will drive to Alma to experience.
“I think this would be very, very beneficial to us once it’s done,” he said.
Before discussing plans for the trail system Martin updated the group on some of the city’s current road project.
He said the projected completion of improvements to Collum Lane East is “sometime around first part of July if there are no hiccups or delays of any kind” which, he added, would be “perfect for the festival that’s coming up.”
The Cherry Street project is scheduled to be completed “sometime around October” according to the mayor.
“Sometime in the very near future, from 64 on south is going to be totaling blocked off for four to five days,” he added. “There’s some work that has to be done on some drainage and the only way we can do it is to actually shut that road down. So that means for those businesses, like JJs and Patrick’s and Coleman’s Pharmacy, you’ll have to go in the back way to get to those businesses.”
“He added, “It’s going to be a lot better through there when everything’s complete.”
As for the festival, Martin said the idea was to make it “something we could actually claim for a day” instead of keeping it as an event that just lasts for a few hours.
“Before, the fireworks display was something people would show up for, sit outside and grill out, watch the fireworks and go home,” he said. “We wanted to make it something that would actually bring people into the city for a while and hang out and hopefully buy a tank of gas or some burgers and fries and stick around.”
The new display, he said, would be “bigger and better than what it has been the past few years.”
Martin said two projects that had all but died are being revived: Kickstart Alma and the Lake Alma Trail System.
“One of the things that happened with our Kickstart Program was that it had all but died,” he said. “So we needed to do something that would get it up and running again. As for the trail system, we were no farther along with this a couple of weeks ago than we were back in 2017, which was a little disappointing. We knew that a trail system and bicycle trails throughout the city was a high priority through the Kickstart Program.”
Martin said city officials knew what residents wanted from the Kickstart Program, but those wishes had to be balanced against available funding.
Now the city is moving forward with the ideas expressed by residents.
“We’ve had two meetings on this and this has fired back up,” he said. “(Monday) there were 10 people and two engineers up there on the trails looking to see what we needed to do to get the trails going.”
He added, “We’re committed to this.”
One desire expressed by citizens was to have a city plaza, but Martin felt that, at this time, that wouldn’t bring in visitors — and the accompanying revenue — the city needs.
“A lot of cities have them,” he said. “It’s not that we don’t need one, but a lot of people won’t drive to Alma to see the city plaza. We’re talking about not only a quality of life issue, but also something that could bring revenue into the city.”
Which brings the city back to the trails.
“These aren’t just walking trails,” Martin said. “When we finish with the trail system, which is about 15 miles of trails, it will be multi-purpose trails: walking, running, hiking and mountain bikes. The population of people that use these facilities travel. They go long distances to use trails.”
And it’s all on pre-existing city property.
“We already have this,” he said. “When we look at revenue, at what we have to spend, we’re pretty tight on revenue right now. But this is property we already own.”
Martin explained that the current trail, which leads to the waterfall, will be left as a dedicated walking trail. Then, in order to bring in mountain bikers and trail runners, a new multi-purpose trail will be added. While that construction is going on, bridges will be rebuilt to improve the trail.
“The bridges have been out for a while,” Martin said. “We need to get those bridges built back so that we can get the trail that is currently there back up and running so people don’t have to hike through a creek.
“Part of this is pretty much ready for mountain bikes,” he continued. “We don’t expect that to need a lot of work.”
The completed system will encompass approximately 15 miles.
“Some of it will be expert-level stuff,” Martin said.
The plan includes a progressive playground below the dam with an attached trail that will go from the base of the dam up to the upper portion of the dam and the beginning of the trail system that we have in place now.”
Martin said the city is extending the upcoming United Way Day of Caring, scheduled for Thursday, April 25, to Saturday, April 27, so it can have a weekend day to bring in a team of volunteers to begin work on the trail.
He said April 25 will be used as the kickoff date for the revived Kickstart Program.
The city also wants to “add holes to the disc golf course that would make that a championship course” and put some money into the water park to bring it up to date.
“That’s going to be a little slower getting that done, but we’re going to do it,” the mayor said.
Martin announced that the city’s Streetscape Project will break ground on Monday and includes plans for what could become a one-of-a-kind park.
“We’re going to make the lot on the corner of Oak and Hall a play area because there’s not anything on that side of town,” he said. “If we’re going to start driving people to the downtown area we need to have something that families can do. Popeye Park is a great park, but it’s not where a kid wants to hang out.”
Plans for the park include making it a safe zone for kids with cameras set up 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The cameras will be monitored two blocks away at the Alma Police Department.
“Part of the vision for that park is to add some handicap equipment in there like swings for people in wheel chairs or a merry-go-round that’s actually set up for children who have mobility issues,” Martin said. “There are actually whole programs that are built to be inclusive playgrounds. It goes into playground equipment where everything is designed for children with mobility issues. Part of the equipment is designed for children who might be autistic and need something that’s low sensory or a place to be by themselves. Adaptive devices built in for children who need adaptive devices to communicate where they can have access to plug into the playground equipment and, with their adaptive device, can make the playground equipment do certain things. But it’s for everyone, it’s just inclusive. Any of our children can play on this.
“There is nothing else like this in our region. Nothing anywhere close. We want to us the Streetscape to bring people in to downtown. Here’s a reason for them to go down there.”
Another priority for the area is a dog park.
“It would be the only one in the region right now. The only other one that I know of is over at Chaffee,” Martin said. “We’re expecting our grant for this to come in somewhere in June or July. We’re going to get this. We’re going to get it done.”
Martin closed his presentation by telling the audience the city is committed to following through on the projects and getting them completed.
“As our Kickstart Program comes back to life, and the trail system and work we’re going to be doing on the trail system, as it comes back to life, one of the things I’ve heard over and over again is that we’ve done a lot of saying we’re going to do something and then not doing it, starting a project and then not following through with it,” he said. “I can assure you that we are 100 percent committed to this and we are committed to the downtown area.”