Way back in the 1930s, the Moon River gas station, roadhouse and dance hall in eastern Jefferson County was a good-time gathering place for locals and travelers.

On Tuesday, public officials joined the nonprofit Freshwater Land Trust to proclaim the official opening of a different kind of attraction at the same site along the Cahaba River in Irondale: a canoe launch and newly built public parking area that provides improved access to the river for water and outdoor enthusiasts.

“The city of Irondale is pleased to be able to offer this recreational opportunity to our citizens and also offer it as a destination for visitors from all over,” said Irondale Mayor James D. Stewart Jr. “The Cahaba River is such an important part of our landscape. We want to give people the chance to get outside and connect with nature, which is a positive for both physical and mental health.”

Rusha Smith, Freshwater Land Trust executive director, said: “We are thrilled to provide public access to the Moon River Canoe Launch with the addition of the new parking lot. The more people that can be exposed to the spectacular Cahaba River, the better, and we hope the use of it encourages people to protect the numerous rivers and streams in our area.”

The Land Trust acquired the Moon River site in 2003 as part of its ongoing mission to secure and conserve biologically vital and diverse properties in Central Alabama. In addition to being important for protecting water quality, the site was identified as a component of the Jefferson County Greenways Plan. Over the years, with support from partners, the Land Trust has worked to improve the habitat and aesthetics of the site.

But there was a drawback. Although a canoe launch has operated for several years, the property lacked adequate parking. Now, there’s a gravel parking area that can accommodate up to seven vehicles. The lot, located on Alabama Department of Transportation right-of-way, is designed to protect nearby wetlands.

With the opening of the parking area, the Moon River site will now be officially added to the Cahaba Blueway, a multigroup initiative expanding public access along the 191-mile length of the Cahaba River.

“This Moon River Canoe launch will increase public access to the beautiful Cahaba River and create outdoor recreational opportunities for Irondale, Leeds and other communities within Jefferson County,” said Susan Comensky, Alabama Power vice president for Environmental Affairs.

The Alabama Power Foundation is among longtime supporters of the project, along with the city of Irondale, The Daniel Foundation of Alabama, the Jefferson County Department of HealthCahaba River Society and Vulcan Materials Company. The environmentally sensitive parking lot was designed by Goodwyn Mills Cawood and built by Outdoor Construction under Land Trust supervision.

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