Weaver mayor thinks cave has development potential
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Jul 25, 2013 | 3536 views |  0 comments | 38 38 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Weaver Cave with a heavy stream of water rushing out after steady rains. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Weaver Cave with a heavy stream of water rushing out after steady rains. Photo by Stephen Gross.
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To some it might look like a hole in the ground, but Wayne Willis sees a huge investment potential.

Weaver’s mayor is exploring whether the city can buy 55 acres of land just south of the city limits containing Weaver Cave. It’s a spot now known by residents as a hangout for trespassing teenagers, with litter and graffiti-sprayed walls. But Willis thinks that with the right investment, resources and development, the cave could become a popular tourist destination.

“Weaver is known as the residential suburbs of McClellan, and when McClellan died, so did Weaver,” Willis said. “I want to change that, and if we can get something like this, it’s something people from outside of Calhoun County, even outside of Alabama, would want to come to Weaver to see.”

Willis said buying the land might be something of a “pipe dream.” Even if Weaver has the money to buy the cave, the mayor said it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best investment if the city can’t afford to maintain or build on the property. Willis said while he discussed the property with current owner Mack Crook, a price hadn’t come up in talks.

Crook told The Star on Wednesday the land could be Weaver’s for $330,000. That’s a big increase from the $125,000 Crook said he paid for it more than a decade ago, but still a bargain compared to the price he'd ask from a private buyer — $500,000.

“I think Weaver would protect the area better,” Crook said. “I’d feel more comfortable selling to the city.”

Crook said Weaver’s approach about the land isn’t the first he’s had, but formally, the cave isn’t on the market. Crook would still like to someday turn the land into a Christian retreat for his Seeds of Abraham Ministry.

“We’ve wanted to do it for years,” Crook said. “But we just haven’t had enough money to get started.”

It isn’t clear if Weaver would have the kind of money to get started either, but Willis said the land has the potential to become a recreational haven for the city.

“You could have hiking, you could have camping, just people who want to see the cave,” Willis said. “The potential is really endless if you can just develop the land.”

It would need a lot of development. Currently the land and area around the cave is mostly overgrown. A single gravel-and-mud turnoff is the only way for a vehicle traveling on Cave Road to reach the cave’s entrance, and there are few safe options for anyone looking to scale the rocks and hills nearby.

It’s made the area attractive for people who maybe shouldn’t be there, said Anniston police Chief Shane Denham. While the cave — in Anniston city limits — isn’t really a secret to potential trespassers looking for a hidden spot, nor to the police who patrol the area, Denham said he gets few complaints about the area. That’s mostly because of its isolation, he said.

“It can actually be really dangerous if you go and look out there,” Denham said. “There’s the potential for someone to get really hurt.”

Willis said establishing a park could alleviate the cave’s reputation as a seedy hangout, but there are more pressing issues for Weaver right now, like fixing city roads, cleaning Weaver’s park and buying equipment for the Public Works Department. So while the mayor expressed his interest in the land to the City Council earlier this month, Willis said he isn’t surprised there’s been a lack of response so far.

“I don’t think it’s reality, at least not right now,” said Councilman Jeff Clendenning. “Weaver’s just got so many other decisions we need to make right now. I haven’t even really thought about it, to be honest.”

Despite the money issues, Willis said Weaver Cave is something the city should seriously think about, if for no other reason than to get the city’s name out to the world.

“I’d like to think of Weaver as a destination,” Willis said. “Not just some place you pass on the way to Jacksonville.”

Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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