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Black Belt Task Force members recipients of $500 in seed money

A small historic museum. A farmer’s market. A replica of Fort Dale, the first county seat, where re-enactments of Savannah Jack’s attack on the settlers could be held.

These are just a few of the projects on the wish list of the Alabama Black Belt Heritage Area (ABBHA) Task Force for Butler County.

Members of that group met with Wimberly Comer, interim executive director of the ABBHA, at the Greenville Area Chamber of Commerce. Comer said $500 of seed money for each of the 19 counties in the ABBHA was being provided through the Center for the Study of the Black Belt at UWA.

The ABBHA is partnering with local communities, state agencies and non-profits to help preserve, conserve and market the unique historical, cultural and natural assets of this region of Alabama. The group is currently working toward gaining National Heritage Area designation, a move which could net the region as much as $1 million to protect, preserve and bring economic development.

“This all began two years ago with Clarke and Perry counties. They came together to look at how they could utilize their natural resources and historic sites to bring an economic boost to the area. Other counties began to do the same,” Comer said.

“You have a wonderful story to tell in this part of Alabama, from the Native Americans, to the Cotton Kingdom, to the Civil Rights Movement, all intertwined with American history,” Comer said.

For anyone questioning Butler County’s right to be included in the Black Belt Heritage Area, member Percy Nixon pointed out the fact the same chalk beds found in Sumter County, traditionally considered part of the Black Belt, can also be found in northeast Butler County.

“We also have some of that black soil that never leaves a trail. When it’s dry, it’s too dusty to leave a track, and when it’s wet, it’s too sticky,” Nixon said with smile.

National designation will allow expanded recreational opportunities in the region, better conservation of natural and cultural resources and improvement of grant-writing skills through the Heritage Partnership Program.

“It will also bring visitors to the area who will be spending their dollars in our communities,” Comer said.

The ABBHA has already assessed 250 sites in the region to promote, created a website and other materials to market regional events and the heritage area.

Recording of oral histories, audio and walking tours, interpretive signage, a culinary trail, children’s Black Belt workbooks, grant programs and much more are all future plans for the ABBHA.

“We want to link all the different sites together in the Black Belt, encouraging visitors to stay longer and to spend more money. We will make the effort to promote local businesses and recreational opportunities near the sites,” Comer said.

Walter Parmer said the county’s task force has many ambitious goals and plans for the project, including promotion of the Old Federal Road and the Bartram Trail, both of which wind their way through the county.

“The Federal Road was patterned after the Indian trails . . . and many of our ancestors traveled that road from the Carolinas to settle here,” he said.

A long-term goal is the re-creation of Fort Dale.

“We want to build a replica of the old fort. Students from local schools could take part in re-enactments of battles. What better way to learn about local history?” Parmer said.

To learn more about the ABBHA, visit their website at alblackbeltheritage.com.