For more than a century, Walker County’s economy was driven largely by the rich seams of coal that underlie the region. By 1900, the bounty of the famed Warrior Coal Field had transformed an agricultural county into the second largest producer of coal in Alabama, just behind rapidly industrializing Jefferson County.
Today, Walker County’s economy and workforce are driven by a broader diversity of sectors. From the auto suppliers and other manufacturers locating along the Interstate 22 corridor that connects Birmingham to Memphis, Tennessee; to the tourism and recreation dollars generated by Smith Lake; to the new retail vibrancy in the historic town center of Jasper – Walker County is re-creating itself.
Now, a new project involving private and public partners is transforming land historically tied to the county’s legacy of mining into a site for the industries of tomorrow.
Heritage Landing, in southern Walker County, is a collaborative development involving Birmingham-based Drummond Co., the city of Dora, the Walker County Development Authority, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and the Alabama Department of Labor’s Abandoned Mine Land (AML) Program.
“We wholeheartedly believe that this project represents a strategic investment in the latest evolution of Walker County and the surrounding area,” said Richard Mullen, Drummond CEO.
Located just off I-22 near the Yerkwood community, the former mining site is undergoing a cleanup and regrading, fueled in part by a $3 million AML grant. By mid-2024, when Phase 1 is complete, Heritage Landing will be ready to attract a wide range of commercial and industrial prospects and offer a full array of utilities, broadband internet and access to a rail line. Alabama Power will supply electricity to the 50-acre site.
Drummond secured the AML grant with support from multiple partners. A longtime producer of coal and coke, and a large landowner in Walker County, the company was looking for opportunities to create economic vitality for the region.
The site of Heritage Landing and the surrounding area were heavily mined from the early 20th century until the 1960s, according to an Alabama Department of Labor news release. Left behind were extensive spoil piles and a dangerous vertical bluff close to I-22. As part of the Heritage Landing project, extensive reclamation will be performed on the highwall and remaining spoil piles as the site is prepared for redevelopment.
“The work our Abandoned Mine Land Program does is essential in ensuring that old, dangerous mines are properly reclaimed, which eliminates safety hazards and allows the land to be redeveloped,” said Fitzgerald Washington, secretary of the Department of Labor. He said the work will not only clean up the site and make it safer, but has “the potential to create positive economic progress for residents in the area.”
Gov. Kay Ivey and other state leaders recently converged at the site for a groundbreaking ceremony. In a statement, she described Heritage Landing as “visionary” and a great example of “teamwork and innovative thinking, both of which are necessary for Alabama to continue achieving success.”
Drummond Company’s Mullen added: “Today is a pioneering moment in the storied history of a place that helped power economic progress across our state, nation and world.
“Walker County was where it all began for Drummond Co., and Heritage Landing exemplifies our continued commitment to cultivating a strong future for families and communities in the region,” Mullen said.
State and local officials, regional planners and private sector interests see other economic development opportunities along the I-22 corridor – in Walker County and the entire length of the highway to the Mississippi state line. Fayette, Lamar, Marion and Winston county officials are working with the University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, regional planning organizations and other partners on the I-22 Corridor Strategic Development Project. In support of that initiative, the center developed a strategic plan that recommends creating a regional alliance to explore options for business development, recreation and tourism and expanded housing along the corridor. Learn more at i22al.com.
Ben Marsh contributed to this report.