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  • Kick Off Your Shoes: Lake Yahou Park Chosen as Forest School for New Barefoot University Chapter

    Lake Yahou Park has been tapped as the designated "Forest School" for the upcoming academic year of the Anniston, Alabama chapter of Barefoot University (BU), a country-wide outdoor education initiative designed to connect homeschool students to nature and each other. Katlyen Helton and Laura Chenoweth (pictured together left), local moms who chose the homeschool path for their children, are leading this new chapter of the hands-on program, hoping to bring the benefits of outdoor student-led learning to other homeschooling families in the area. "As parents, we feel like children are being hindered by too much access to technology at too young of an age and many are not able to experience and appreciate nature in a way that’s developmentally appropriate," said Helton. "We hope that by providing this new group to others, we are helping foster a sense of wonderment, independence, and appreciation we see in our own children when we get them outside in nature." Barefoot University was initially started in 2019 by Amber Brown and Madeleine Braden, who sought an outdoor alternative to their children's learning. The program has since expanded to over 20 states. This Anniston initiative joins other Alabama Barefoot University chapters in Gadsden, Jasper, Tuscaloosa, and Springville. When scouting locations for their BU Forest School, Helton and Chenoweth prioritized finding a site deeply immersed in nature while remaining accessible to as many families in the area as possible. Tucked away in the woods with convenient highway access, McClellan's Lake Yahou Park emerged as the perfect setting for their curriculum. Helton explained that by choosing Lake Yahou Park, she and Chenoweth "hope to provide a top-notch nature experience for Barefoot University students," citing the lake's natural beauty and access to the McClellan trail system as additional factors in their decision. *Photos from the Barefoot University interest meeting on May 15, 2024 Although the final curriculum is not yet set for this Anniston chapter, Barefoot University is structured into different yearly "rhythms" with activities corresponding to each theme. Rhythm Earth focuses on geology, botany, zoology, foraging, earth sciences, minerals, fossils, and soil studies; Rhythm Fire explores survival skills, first aid, orienteering, outdoor safety, self-reliance, and physical skills; Rhythm Water covers physics, marine life, reptiles & amphibians, water habitats, rain, erosion, and movement; and Rhythm Sky delves into astronomy, meteorology, environmental and space sciences, winged life, and flight. The program also aims to develop children in four key areas: cognitive, emotional, physical, and social. Although students are not separated by age, each age group's learning insights generally build upon the foundation of the previous. Ages 5-8 focus on exploration and observation; ages 9-13 on analysis and navigation; and ages 18+ on application and independence. Julie Moss, Executive Director of the McClellan Development Authority, said, "Barefoot University is a very unique program for our area, and we’re thrilled the chapter leaders chose Lake Yahou Park for their Forest School this fall. We hope our beautiful lake and park will foster a love of nature and sense of adventure in Barefoot University students." The Lake Yahou Park Forest School plans to meet every Wednesday at 9 a.m. beginning in September. The deadline for families to enroll in Barefoot University is June 30, 2024. If interested, contact Katlyen Helton at katlyenh@gmail.com. To learn more about Barefoot University, you can visit their Facebook page or website.

  • RELEASE: McClellan Development Authority Receives a $653,424.12 Grant For Lake Yahou Park Paving Upgrades

    ANNISTON, Ala—The McClellan Development Authority (MDA) will be paving the drives and parking lot at Lake Yahou Park using an asphalt mixture modified with recycled tire rubber derived from tire scraps as the recipient of a $653,424.12 grant from Alabama Department of Environmental Management. The project will be contracted to Wiregrass Construction Company, Inc. and will include a six-year evaluation from the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) at Auburn University. “We are honored to be among the first in the state of Alabama to receive this grant for rubber-modified asphalt,” said Julie Moss, MDA Executive Director. “The MDA is always looking for ways to improve Lake Yahou Park, and this grant will make a huge impact in the park’s vehicle accessibility. We’re looking forward to working with Wiregrass Construction this spring and extend many thanks to ADEM for making this opportunity possible.” The technology behind this paving project offers a host of benefits for Lake Yahou Park visitors. The tire-modified asphalt is not only environmentally conscious but also boasts reduced tire wear and a quieter, safer driving experience due to improved traction. The rubber-modified asphalt stands out amongst traditional asphalt in its durability, lasting longer and withstanding potholes and cracking. “What makes this project unique is our construction approach of using two different types of asphalt on the road,” said Brandon Owens, Vice President of Operations at Wiregrass. “One side will be paved with Superpave asphalt, while the other side will be paved with Ground Tire Rubber asphalt.” By utilizing both types of asphalt on the same main drive in and out of Lake Yahou Park, Wiregrass Construction will ensure equal traffic distribution, facilitating an accurate comparison between the two surfaces throughout NCAT’s six-year study. Carolina Rodezno, Associate Research Professor from the National Center for Asphalt Technology, said, “Projects like this [at McClellan] will allow the asphalt industry to gain experience with construction and performance to add to our knowledge base with rubber modified asphalt and support future implementation efforts.” Owens added, “At Wiregrass Construction, we believe in the importance of reusing waste materials to create a more sustainable infrastructure. We are honored to be a part of this initiative and look forward to its positive impact.” The project began February 26, 2024. The full paving process will require Lake Yahou Park to be closed for approximately four weeks, dependent on weather, and advanced notice of the closures will be given on the MDA’s Facebook page.

  • Packed to the Gills: Lake Yahou Welcomes Carp, Catfish, Coppernose Bluegill Following State Testing

    On the morning of Tuesday, August 16, a representative from Davis Fish Farms arrived at Lake Yahou with a truckload of aquatic inhabitants: 3,200 Coppernose bluegill, 800 channel catfish, and 20 grass carp. This delivery marked the initial phase of a plan to uphold the health and vibrancy of Lake Yahou, guided by the recommendations of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR). In the summer of 2019, the 8-acre lake welcomed 800 bass, as well as bluegill and minnows, as part of its aquatic community. However, a year after Lake Yahou Park's grand opening to the public in 2022, the McClellan Development Authority (MDA) decided it was time to take advantage of the free lake testing performed by the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division of ADCNR. On May 9, 2023, biologists carried out an electrofishing survey, using mild electric currents to temporarily immobilize a population of fish for study. This method, coupled with water sample analysis, painted a clear picture of the lake's ecosystem to biologists, who proposed a scientific approach to improve the lake's vegetal habitat and ecological balance in an official report for the MDA. The results of the survey offered practical solutions such as distributing agricultural limestone to regulate water pH (a process known as liming) and launching a fertilization program aimed at stimulating plankton growth and maintaining water clarity within a desired range of 18-24 inches. Additionally, biologists suggested stocking grass carp and channel catfish to enrich Lake Yahou's aquatic food chain. Under the ADCNR's advice, the MDA initiated this biology-based program, beginning with the introduction of carp and catfish (and more bite-size bluegill for the bass to eat) this week. In the spring, they plan to spread agricultural limestone, followed by fertilization in the summer of 2024—a pragmatic approach to freshwater fishing sustainability that reinforces Lake Yahou's health and quality just as much as its scenic beauty. Lake Yahou Park is currently catch-and-release only, but, as the fish mature, the MDA plans to allow select harvest days, another ADCNR suggestion. A $5 permit is required to fish at Lake Yahou, which can be purchased from the MDA office at 4975 Bains Gap Road, Anniston, AL.

  • Training the Best for the Worst: A Tour Inside FEMA's Center for Domestic Preparedness at McClellan

    "The 'best' are our first responders, those willing to risk their lives for the safety and security of fellow Americans. The 'worst' is man-made and natural disasters that can strike anywhere, at any time," explained Richard Brewer, Director of External Affairs at the Center for Domestic Preparedness (CDP), to myself and McClellan Development Authority Executive Director Julie Moss in a large boardroom at the CDP headquarters on the morning of Tuesday, November 14, 2023. We had connected with Brewer the month before with the hopes of writing a feature piece about the CDP's national training operations which are headquartered at McClellan, but he offered something even better which we couldn't pass up—a personal tour of their campus, which began, like all organizational overviews, with an introductory presentation. The genesis of the Center for Domestic Preparedness traces back to the harrowing Sarin nerve agent attack in Tokyo by the Aum Shinrikyo terrorist cult in 1995, which spurred an overwhelming demand for civilian responder training in the United States to be prepared to handle similar crises domestically. The next year, the Nunn-Lugar-Domenici Domestic Preparedness program was started as part of the Defense Against Weapons of Mass Destruction Act, allowing first responders to train at the U.S. Army Chemical School at Fort McClellan. Brewer explained, "When the base was slated for closure, some very smart people suggested they keep training first responders here," and the Center for Domestic Preparedness was born. The CDP's presence at McClellan has not only repurposed many of Fort McClellan's claims to fame (like the Noble Army Hospital and former Chemical School buildings), but has also brought a $255 million annual economic impact to Calhoun County. Following the briefing, Brewer showed us a map of their campus, which comprises over 50 buildings spread across 186 acres and three primary training sites: the ARTC, COBRATF, and Noble Training Facility. The ARTC (Advanced Responder Training Complex), which is currently undergoing major upgrades and renovations, prepares responders to deal with commonplace hazards, including an industrial park, a mock subway station, and a simulated street scene with businesses. [Photos feature live training sessions at the ARTC on the simulated street scene and subway] The COBRATF (Chemical, Ordnance, Biological and Radiological Training Facility) is where civilian responders receive hands-on training to effectively respond to real-world incidents involving chemical, biological, explosive, radiological, and other hazardous materials. There, Gary Milner, Assistant Director of Training of the COBRATF walked us through the various training settings within the mock town of Fisherville, including an apartment, a bar, a commercial kitchen, and more. He also showed us the training bays where responders train with actual toxic biological materials and chemical agents to gain confidence in both their skills and the personal protective equipment they wear when responding to hazardous material incidents. The training at the COBRATF is the only of its kind in the nation, with advanced security measures and rigorous safety protocols that Milner says has helped sustain their long-standing record of zero exposures. [Photos feature live training sessions at COBRATF, a display of the various Hazmat suits used in training, and an aerial view of the mock town of Fisherville] Our tour next led us to the Noble Training Facility just past 11 am, when the mock hospital environment was in full swing, with nursing students, EMTs, instructors, and technical staff bustling about; yet the chaos was structured and intentional, and resembled everything about an operational hospital except for real-life patients. The setting of this specialized medical response training could not be more appropriate, as the facility was once the Noble Army Hospital during Fort McClellan's operation, serving everyone from privates to generals and their families for over 40 years. Today, the Noble Training Facility is the only hospital facility in the nation dedicated solely to training healthcare professionals in disaster preparedness and mass casualty response, featuring exercises with ambulances and role-players, involving more than 100 patients who must be triaged. [Photos feature live training scenarios at the Noble Training Facility, prop wounds/bodily fluids, and the room of training dummies] Since 1998, the CDP has trained more than 1,400,000 state, local, tribal, and territorial responders through various means, including 51 hands-on courses, 64 virtual instructor-led courses, 14 totally online courses, and several microlearning courses accessible via YouTube. Plus, all training is federally funded at no cost to the trainees. "It's an astounding experience to get this firsthand look of the state-of-the-art training taking place at the CDP training sites," said MDA Executive Director Julie Moss. "We are thrilled to know so many responders from across the United States visit our beautiful community to better protect the nation from disasters." We extend a huge thank you to Richard Brewer and Gary Milner for lending their time and sharing their expertise during our tour of the Center for Domestic Preparedness, as well as the 1,000+ CDP employees who spend each day 'training the best for the worst.' You can keep up with the CDP's training initiatives on their Facebook page, and learn more about their training opportunities at cdp.dhs.gov/training.

  • McClellan Sports & Outdoors Opens with Sporting Goods Gifts for Everyone on Your Christmas List

    Just in the (Saint) Nick of time! McClellan Sports & Outdoors, the retail portion of Team Sports, is now open at 135 Exchange Ave, Anniston, AL with premiere sporting goods gifts for any age athlete, coaches, referees, and sport moms. You can find everything from golf polos, toddler sneakers, baseball bats, workout wear, backpacks, Maui Jim sunglasses, adorable earrings, and more inside their bright, spacious storefront. Team Sports' roots trace back 15 years ago to Smith's Sports in Anniston, when they first established their specialty in screen printing and embroidering team gear and uniforms. When Team Sports moved to McClellan in late 2020, the new owners knew it was the right time to finally pursue retail alongside their main services, and McClellan Sports & Outdoors was born. With a modern, wood facade and cast iron logo, the new retail store stands out from the Team Sports brand with a unique and welcoming identity all its own. "By moving here, we hope to get plugged into the community," co-owner Kristin Laymon said. "We loved the location [being] central to most of the schools in Calhoun County and being able to make those local connections." Currently, designing and printing team sports gear is the backbone of Team Sports' operations, providing uniforms for Piedmont, Alexandria, Saks, Weaver, and Jacksonville schools, among others—but Laymon hopes the retail side will help reach their audience in new, innovative ways. "We want to become the go-to place for the athletic community to get their outdoor and sporting goods needs." In the near future, Team Sports hopes to officially launch McClellan Sports & Outdoors with a Grand Opening, as well as bring in additional staff to promote and oversee the new retail venture. With the holiday season upon us, McClellan Sports and Outdoors offers the best way to both support a family-owned business and find the perfect gift for the sport enthusiasts in your life. You can find more information, by visiting mcclellansports.com or by following them on Instagram and Facebook.

  • Better Direction & Protection: The MDA Introduces Wayfinding Signs and Police Cameras to McClellan

    McClellan residents and visitors will enjoy enhanced safety and navigation following the installation of over 24 wayfinding signs and four police security cameras courtesy of the McClellan Development Authority (MDA). The MDA initiated both of these projects last year in response to a prevailing community need for live-feed security and an overhaul of the wayfinding system. The MDA worked closely with the Anniston Police Department (APD) and Simmons Sign & Graphics (SSG) of Gadsden to lead the ventures to fruition. As of August 2023, the wayfinding signs and police cameras were being installed. MDA Executive Director Julie Moss said, "It’s so exciting to see the wayfinding signs going up as we continue to invest in the area, especially with the strong interest being shown in McClellan. We have made great strides toward development in the community and want to make sure everyone feels welcome and can enjoy all this area has to offer." She added, "We are also proud to have partnered with APD to purchase cameras to assist them with protecting our residents and businesses." The Simmons Sign & Graphics crew collaborated with the MDA staff to mark the location of each sign around McClellan using a color-coded, alphanumerical map. The first signs to go up included Baltzell Gate Road, the traffic circle, and the Summerall Gate Road/Gen. Gerald Watson Way intersection, which conjure the heaviest traffic flow. The MDA hopes the wayfinding signs will encourage more visitors to McClellan who have been previously concerned about getting lost, as well as help direct people to high-activity locations such as the FEMA Center for Domestic Preparedness, the Industrial Park, the Medical Mall, and, of course, McClellan's various recreational offerings. SSG says this is the largest project their company has ever fulfilled. In October 2022, the MDA finalized the purchase of the four live-monitoring police cameras and three years’ worth of network cards for the Anniston Police Department. The cameras, which will be placed in strategic locations around McClellan, will act as a crime deterrent and aid APD in protecting McClellan residents, visitors, and property. Some of the cameras, near the historic headquarters building and Grace Fellowship Church, have already been installed. Captain Justin Sanford of APD Special Operations Division said the cameras will provide an extra sense of security to the community. "The cameras can be directly accessed by members of the police department to respond to any safety threats in real time. They are also watchful guardians that should deter would be offenders from committing criminal acts around those areas," he added. "We are pleased to partner with the McClellan Development Authority on this project." Installation of all wayfinding signs and police cameras is expected to be completed by the end of September. For more information, call (256) 236-2011 or email info@exploremcclellan.com.

  • Shredding for Sloan: The Race and Scholarship That Keeps Sloan Harmon's Memory Alive

    Every year since 2020, hundreds of community members gather together at the McClellan Trails and ride in the name of Sloan Harmon, a talented young mountain biker whose life was tragically cut short in 2019. To commemorate Sloan's spirit, his parents established a 501(c)(3) organization called the Soaring with Sloan Foundation and initiated a scholarship that honors his passion of mountain biking. Beginning as a small memorial ride, Shred for Sloan has transformed into a powerful annual gathering, raising money for the scholarship through t-shirt sales and donations. LEFT: Sloan Harmon; RIGHT: Shred for Sloan bikers gather at the trail marker named in his memory at the McClellan Trails Chase Garrard, who coordinates the Shred for Sloan memorial ride, said, "I think it's a healing event after such an absolute tragedy, especially for the community." He emphasized that the gathering not only pays tribute to Sloan through mountain biking, but also allows his parents to witness the positive influence their son continues to have on countless lives in the community. Central to the Shred for Sloan event is the scholarship program that provides opportunities for high school senior bikers to pursue their dreams. Any active high school senior mountain biker can apply for the scholarship, and are required to submit a compelling essay, expressing how mountain biking has transformed their lives, along with a comprehensive resume showcasing their achievements. The winners are then awarded the scholarship at the concluding ceremony of the ACA State Championship. Each year has witnessed a surge in participation and funds raised for the Shred for Sloan Scholarship, allowing them to expand the scholarship from just one recipient to both a male and female recipient. In 2023, the event amassed over $8,000 for the foundation, a true testament to the enduring support from the biking community to keep Sloan's legacy alive. Shred for Sloan scholarship recipients Emma Obermaier (L) and KB Benkwith (R) are recognized at the ACA State Championship One of the scholarship recipients, Emma Obermaier from the Donaho School, will use the scholarship to continue her biking journey at Montevallo this fall: "I am so thankful for the people with the Shred for Sloan foundation for opening such a great opportunity for young athletes, like me, to help me set my best foot forward as I step into my future with this sport." The second scholarship recipient, KB Benkwith from the Donaho School, shares a sentimental connection to the scholarship: "Sloan was a very close friend of mine, so I was beyond grateful to receive the scholarship in his name. The McClellan trails are also super special to me as it was one of my first ever mountain bike race wins...I’m very hopeful to come back and help at the [ACA] events now that I’ve graduated. I enjoy nothing more than to be in that environment." Shred For Sloan stands as a testament to the resilience of a community united by a shared love for cycling and a commitment to honoring a remarkable young life. With each passing year, the Shred For Sloan scholarship brings hope and opportunity to deserving young athletes, ensuring Sloan's legacy lives on through their journeys on two wheels. To learn more about this cause, visit the Shred for Sloan Facebook page.

  • McClellan Multi-Use Trails Now Open

    The McClellan Trails are the first specially design NICA trail in the state of Alabama. A ribbon cutting was schedule for the evening of Wednesday, June 26, 2019. Mother Nature seemed to have other plans as she provided several storms with torrential down pours, thunder and lighting. As we got closer to 5:30 p.m. our designated time the sprinkles that were left all but went away. With local mountain bikers and a few from Birmingham, coaches and parents, city and county officials, and MDA Board Members, our celebration was going to happen. Remarks were made by Phil Webb, Chairman of MDA, and the cutting of the ribbon was done by Board member, Freeman Fite, whose idea it was to build the trails. The biggest announcement after the actual opening of the trails is that the second race of the NICA (National Interscholastic Cycling Association) season will be hosted right here at the McClellan Trails on March 7- 8, 2020. This announcement was met with much applause, especially from the team riders. On behalf of MDA, a big thank you was provided to Trail Solutions (trail builders), IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association), Preston York from Flowmotion, Patrick Wigley from Wigs Wheels and the mountain bike riders and their coaches. The ribbon was then cut and the Cheaha, Donoho, and Jacksonville team riders and their coaches took to the trails for the first time. The most heard comment was “it’s smooth and it’s fast”. The thumbs up, was a good sign that the trails were a hit especially for those that will call it their home trail. The trails are officially open 7 days a week from Dawn to Dusk.

  • McClellan Multi-Use Trails Phase II Now Open

    The McClellan Development Authority (MDA) opens Phase II of the McClellan Trails adding another 5 miles of trails within the last four months. The 10 miles of trails were designed by Trail Solutions with the Phase I trails as the first specifically designed and built NICA course in the state of Alabama. “We are very excited and proud of the mountain bike trails that the MDA has built here at McClellan,” said Julie Moss the Director of the MDA. “If you haven’t been out to see the trails whether to bike or hike we encourage you to do so; it’s a great way to enjoy the outdoors especially during this difficult time of social distancing.” Recently a few of the National Interscholastic Cycling Association (NICA) Alabama League Management Team came out to ride Phase II of the trails in hopes of incorporating part of Phase II into the NICA Melee at McClellan bike race that is scheduled for March 20-21, 2021. This will be the second race held at McClellan. This past March the race had 2000 people attend with around 600 of those bike racers. Our area is home to four teams, Donoho, Cheaha, Jacksonville and Oxford. “The new addition to an already fast and fun trail system is really nice. It brings some more purposed fast flow down the mountain as well as big views of the valley. Sloan’s Furnace is a blast; it’s worth riding back up for multiple trips down, said Bart Davidson, Programs & Race Director of NICA Alabama. As for the NICA race, we might be able to incorporate some of it, but that’s a secret at this point. This is a trial system well worth the trip.” Phase I of the trails are ideal for someone that is new to mountain biking with smooth climbs and fast smooth descents while Phase II provides the next level full of fast descents, rugged terrain and climbs to beautiful views. The McClellan Multi-Use Trails provided great options to meet the experience each hiker, biker, and trail runner.

  • Lake Yahou Becomes The Home of 800 Bass

    Recently Davis Fish Farms delivered 800 bass and introduced them into Lake Yahou. This 8 acre rain water feed lake is on the agenda to become a public fishing and picnic area for the community. The timing for this will be a year to a year and a half away. The bass need time to grow and it will give MDA a chance to prepare the area for visitors and finalize all permitted activities. Stay tuned for additional updates on Lake Yahou Park.

  • MDA Finalizes Purchase of Four Police Cameras with Anniston Police Department

    Julie Moss, Director of the McClellan Development Authority, met with Anniston Police Chief Nick Bowles and Captain Justin Sanford on Thursday, October 20 to finalize the purchase of four live-monitoring police cameras and three years’ worth of network cards for $36,942.76, which the MDA Board approved on Sept. 28. The four cameras will be placed around McClellan in strategic locations within the next 6 months and assist Anniston Police Department with protecting the citizens and property at McClellan. Moss attended the State of Law Enforcement seminar hosted by the Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce on April 1, 2022, which invited law enforcement agencies from across the county to speak about issues and trends facing the police force. During the event, Moss noted Anniston Police Department’s need for officers, and discussed with Chief Bowles about the possibility of cameras being set up around McClellan to assist their department. “The cameras are a good deterrent — [they] let people know the police department cares about the community and wants to make everybody feel safe,” said Chief Bowles, “It’s a witness that’s always there and never calls in sick.” Chief Bowles directed Moss to Captain Sanford of Anniston Police Department’s Special Operations Division, who explained all the specifications, operations, and requirements of the police cameras. With assistance from Captain Sanford and APD staff, Moss determined the best locations for the cameras around McClellan. “I appreciate Captain Sanford and the Anniston Police Department for educating me about these cameras and guiding me throughout the process,” said Moss. “I am pleased the McClellan Development Authority is taking advantage of this opportunity to assist our officers and the City of Anniston with keeping our community safe.” “We really appreciate having the funding to do this because anytime we…have more assets out there, obviously that’s better protection and better coverage,” said Captain Sanford. “[These] relationships help us allocate our resources — so it’s a huge help.”

  • CDP Has the Keys

    The Center for Domestic Preparedness was presented the keys and deed to 94 acres of land and 16 buildings purchased for $3.5 million last month. Negotiations have taken place for the last four years in preparation for this purchase. The Center for Domestic Prepardness has been leasing the buildings since 2006 and this will allow for expansion of the entire facility. Including this deal the CDP now has ownership of 176 acres. The goal now is to find the best way to capitalize on this momentum to help spur more growth for McClellan. This stands to be the largest land deal in the history of the MDA. Mike King the superintendant for the CDP was enthusiastic about the transaction at Wednesday’s ceremony saying “This is a great accomplishment and milestone for the CDP and the McClellan Development Authority." TV 24 Coverage Alabama 13 Anniston Star

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