Progress report on Ditto Landing upgrades: Board members say plenty of work has been done

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - A few months ago, Madison County and Huntsville City leaders made an exciting announcement about an impressive plan to expand and upgrade Ditto Landing.  City planners said it was all a part of Huntsville's "Big Picture" Plan.  WHNT News 19 had the opportunity to speak at length with members of the Ditto Landing board to get an update on the progress.

Parts of the plan completed so far

The Master Plan consists of three different phases. According to Ditto Landing board members, they have made a lot of headway in Phase one. This progress includes entering a public/private partnership with Jeff Coy, who owns Huntsville Madison Rowing Incorporated. Wally Kirkpatrick, Chairman of the Ditto Landing Board, says they worked about eight months to get this program up and running.

"We have prepared the infrastructure and we are now operating the rowing aspect of that.  We will add other elements of the non-motorized watercraft rental program incrementally as we move along," Kirkpatrick said.

Another project in the works is the revitalization of the old bridge that crosses over Pinhook Creek.

"We have had engineering studies done of that we are working with the City of Huntsville now to make some structural modifications of that building and then have it painted we will open that old building to traffic," said Kirkpatrick.  "We envision a new parking area on the west side of Pinhook Creek and we would use the bridge for access across there.  Currently, we have more than one access point into and out of Ditto, so the opening of the old steel bridge will give us additional access."

Ditto's board has also been busy searching for grants to fund all of the phases of the master plan, Kirkpatrick said.

"We have money for the first two phases of phase one.  We have the money to build the infrastructure for phase one, and that is the non-motorized watercraft. We have a commitment of funding from the county for the renovation of the old steel bridge, so those are ongoing projects and those are first in the queue," Kirkpatrick said.

As far as funding for the other phases, "it will come from multiple sources. Some of it will come from the city and county and some of it will come from federal grants that are available for these types of activities," Kirkpatrick said.

Adding water sports

Part of the city's suggested upgrades included adding options for water sports for the public. Visitors would be able to rent paddle boards, kayaks, and canoes. All of these were supposed to be available by June, according to board member Keith Mandel. However, it's now August and these rentals are nowhere in sight.

"I think the June timetable was pretty ambitious," said Mandel.  He said the board realized the process was more intensive.

"As we do things we have to get state permission when we change things because we use state and federal money to create this facility," Mandel said.

WHNT News 19 has confirmed water board rentals are in the works, but some safety concerns must be worked out first. Jeff Coy, owner of Huntsville Water Sports, says the rentals have a higher risk.

"This is an operation where people are renting equipment to go paddle so you are not with them 100 percent of the time," said Coy.  They want to make sure all safety measures are in line before they start the rentals.

"The most important aspect of this is from a safety standpoint," said Coy. "We will not put a single paddle board, canoe out until we know that everything is in place from a safety standpoint."

Those should be in place within the next few weeks. "I would say three to six weeks," said Coy.

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