Through recent efforts by several local business leaders to restore a lake at McClellan, Simmons and other area residents could soon have fishing and other outdoor activities at the former fort.
"I like to fish and the lake hasn't been used in almost 15 years, so I'm interested to see what's been growing under there," Simmons said.
Simmons, project leader for 2014 class of Leadership Calhoun County, a Calhoun County Chamber of Commerce program, said the group wants to restore Reilly Lake at McClellan to its former glory. The recreational facility closed along with the fort in 1999 and has been shut off to the public ever since.
The Leadership Calhoun County program is designed to develop leadership resources in the community. The annual class, containing mainly young business leaders in the area, typically meets with local governments and industries to learn more about the area. The class culminates with some type of civic service project.
"Our plan is to open the property to the community to use it again," Simmons said.
The entire site is about 118 acres, including the 8-acre lake. After nearly 15 years, Mother Nature has overgrown much of the site, which includes playground equipment, RV hookups and camp sites.
"The equipment is pretty robust ... much of it looks salvageable," Simmons said. "The playground equipment could be stripped and repainted."
Simmons said the group has already toured the site and had an informal meeting with members of the McClellan Development Authority, which owns the lake and is tasked with management and development of the former fort. Simmons said his group will meet further with the MDA and the Anniston City Council to discuss the project.
"Our first step is getting the city of Anniston and possibly Weaver to take official ownership of the property, to continue the maintenance and upkeep of it," Simmons said.
Robin Scott, executive director of the MDA, said the authority had already designated the lake site for recreational development.
"I don't know if restoring the lake would help sell the property for industrial development around it, but I think it would be a great benefit to the city," Scott said.
Once ownership is established, the group is prepared to volunteer its time and also gather other volunteers and organizations to restore the lake.
Simmons said he's had the thought of revitalizing Reilly Lake for some time.
Being an avid angler, when Simmons moved from Texas to Calhoun County in 2005, he soon searched for nearby places to fish. In one of his Internet searches, he discovered a satellite image of Reilly Lake at McClellan. After further research about the lake and McClellan and what it once meant to the area, the idea to restore the site popped into Simmons' head. But he quickly tucked the idea away in the back of his mind with little expectation that the lake would ever be restored, he said.
It wasn't until his group was discussing its annual project that his thoughts about the lake resurfaced.
Simmons said his group is also trying to spread the word about the lake and the project, to see if the community is interested in seeing the site restored. The group created a Restore Reilly Lake Facebook page Monday; as of Wednesday it had more than 250 likes and multiple positive comments about the idea from residents.
The previous City Council in 2011 considered taking control of the lake and turning it into a park, however, the idea never came to fruition. Some liabilities with the property were discovered at the time, including nearby capped landfills once used by the military that could require erosion maintenance.
Still, Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he is interested in restoring the lake and looks forward to hashing out the details with the leadership group and the MDA.
"I certainly support it in spirit and if everyone can get on the same page, it'll probably be a worthwhile project," Stewart said. "And I think it's great that the LCC is wanting to reach out on such a project ... we want to have a can-do attitude at City Hall and in the community."
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.