It had been a long week along the Singing River Trail (SRT), a proposed 220-mile greenway system that will link the City of Decatur to the Shoals to the west and to Madison, Huntsville, Guntersville, and Jackson County to the east. It was a Friday afternoon. As the Executive Director of SRT, I was sitting in a downtown redevelopment meeting at the Cook Museum. I may have let my mind wander toward a waiting cocktail and dinner at Simp McGhee’s when suddenly I heard…
“John, what is one word you would use to describe Downtown Decatur?”
What? Are you talking to me? Is there another John in the room… no. Suddenly my mind is back in the room, and I’m on the spot. All eyes were focused on me. I gulped hard, asked them to let me explain my word before being interrupted, and then opened my mouth and said…
Visions of my waiting meal and drink disappeared into a blur of sighs, gasps, and eyerolls. Of course, that is what the guy from Huntsville would say; time to send Rocket Boy back to Rocket City and revoke his Decatur card.
Wait! You promised me I could explain my answer, and this is what I said…
Decatur is real.
It has grit and moxie.
Decatur feels like home because I’ve never been made to feel like an outsider. I love the fine glaze of rust or patina that only comes from two centuries of life along the Tennessee River.
The River City has preserved its past, but it isn’t chained to it. Walk around Downtown and enjoy a fine meal at the RailYard, a quick bite to eat at the Brick Deli and Tavern, or a great cocktail at Simp McGhee’s. Or take in an art show at the Carnegie Visual Arts Center or a play, musical, or concert at the Princess Theater. If all else fails, you can head down to the Cook Museum for a Smithsonian-like experience. All of this… ALL OF THIS is within easy walking distance within Downtown Decatur. A blend of old and new, historic, and cutting edge unfolds in front of you. For the record, your historic bridges ARE rusty, and you ARE a working port city. Own it; stop rejecting it and stop hiding it. Your rusty railroad tracks have been pushing and pulling people and freight through town for a long time. It’s part of your charm.
Embrace your rust, Decatur. Dare you. It’s called stick-to-itiveness and you have a bunch of it.
I’ve taken the time to find Decatur’s charm, energy, and well… rust. And I almost forgot one more important thing. Why am I in Decatur so much and how come I am so willing to sing the praises of a city that isn’t mine? It is because Decatur is the center of the Singing River Trail, and I happen to be the Executive Director of the Singing River Trail. I see so much positive growth and potential created around what is already there. Did you know that the Dr. Bill Sims Trail is a 12-mile urban bike system in Decatur, and it will be linked to the Singing River Trail? Did you also know that Point Mallard, Flint Creek Blueway, and the Tennessee RiverLine are activating sections of Decatur’s waterfront for easier access? Now you know!
Imagine taking the Singing River Trail down to Flint Creek for a day on the water and never having to get into a car? We can! That is the vision; blending greenways and blueways and making an outdoor city instead of a city with an outdoors. It’s positively exciting to think about.
Rusty. Authentic. Real. Stick-to-itiveness. Decatur.
The good news is that my “rusty” answer didn’t get me kicked out of town or tarred and feathered. In fact, they asked me to write this blog post because I DO love Decatur and because I see the patina of the River City, but more importantly I see the potential of the City to become something even better than its past.
Now it’s your turn. Find your word to describe Decatur, look for your place to eat and drink, explore places that I didn’t mention, create new memories, and maybe even make Decatur home.
Stay a night, stay a week, or stay a lifetime.
Let’s help keep Decatur rusty!
Dr. John Kvach,
The Singing River Trail is a vision for a long-distance trail in North Alabama that connects our communities, provides active-living opportunities for residents, and spurs further economic development for the region. The trail is in development and will be North Alabama’s longest trail/greenway that will connect Limestone, Madison, and Morgan Counties. Learn more about the Singing River Trail.