Members of the Albertville Rotary Club, and especially Jacksonville State University Trustee Randy Jones, had a real treat Tuesday when JSU’s Pete Conroy was our guest speaker.

Conroy has a pretty fancy title – Director of JSU’s Environmental Policy and Information Center – but since I met him 15 years ago, I’ve more thought of him as the best dreamer and doer I know.

He’s one of the major reasons for the existence of DeKalb County’s Little River Canyon as a National Preserve. He put together a consortium of elected officials, Alabama Power Company, powerful people and using the resources of Jacksonville State University and influences of folks like the band Alabama’s Randy Owen, and made his dream of protecting one of the state’s most beautiful resources a reality.

Five Alabama governors and two U.S. presidents, both Republican and Democrats, appointed Conroy to various boards of significance.

Now Conroy has more big dreams and when – not if, I’ve learned not to doubt Pete – they come true, you and I will be the beneficiaries because of the impact of economic development in northeast Alabama.

Conroy’s dream of creating the JSU Canyon Center has been a reality since 2009. That beautiful facility on Alabama 35 and bordering Little River, is already home to concerts, field school educational instruction for such things as fly fishing, nature, art, pottery, rock climbing, hiking and much more.

Conroy has now turned his attention to hospitality and entertainment and the results, if history predicts the future, will be something we’ll enjoy. As with other projects with Conroy’s involvement, look for many to benefit and the communities to profit.

The Canyon Center has recently completed a huge covered stage and amphitheater and a number of concerts, including some by Alabama’s Owen, are on tap. The recently completed Canyon Fest was another huge success with daylong activities and live musical concerts.

More than that and typical of Conroy’s out-of-the-box thinking, are hopes and plans for a world-class zip line above Little River Canyon. This won’t be a typical zip line, but one that will safely feature an undulating ride rather than a consistent descent.

That new attraction will bring thousands of new visitors to northeast Alabama and, when a minimum of 25,000 people visit annually, Conroy’s plans for a luxury hotel on the rim of Little Canyon may move from dreams to reality.

His dream of northeast Alabama becoming a national center for the film and entertainment industry are already underway. JSU’s Longleaf Studio has already opened with incredible facilities, including the largest green screen production studio in Alabama. That, combined with the region’s Northeast Alabama Entertainment Initiative, brings the likelihood of many new jobs across the top of the state, especially in combination with JSU’s new film and entertainment academic minor.

Many exciting things are going on at JSU.

Ben Shurett is publisher of The Sand Mountain Reporter. He can be contacted at ben.shurett@sandmountainreporter .com.

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