Sarah Sloan stepped into 18th Street, warning a passing SUV that racers were making their way down Rocky Hollow Road in their last training run to prepare for Saturday’s Woodstock 5K. Two other vehicles stopped to let the runners pass as Sloan handed them cups of water as they headed into the last leg of the course. The water station she ran with her husband, Jimmy, was one of three set up by members of the Rocky Hollow Neighborhood Association as part of an effort to support the race and those who run it.
“They’ve been awesome,” said Haley Gregg, Woodstock race director. “Our running club loves them.”
The Woodstock 5K has run the same route through east Anniston for decades, but increases in crime in recent years had sparked debate about pulling it from the Rocky Hollow neighborhood.
Information provided by the police department shows the Rocky Hollow neighborhood has seen roughly twice as many incidents of violent crime as the southern end of the race course has. For the past 12 months, 17 assaults were reported from the blocks surrounding Rocky Hollow Road and Davis Avenue compared to nine for the blocks looping around Woodstock and Christine avenues beginning at 11th Street. In the prior 12 months, those numbers were 19 and eight, respectively.
The partnership with the runners club gave the association a chance to create an environment that felt friendly or friendlier to runners while allowing members to expand their agenda for improving the quality of life in their neighborhood, said Jennifer Maddox, president of the Rocky Hollow Neighborhood Association.
Carolyn Walker, 64, was fast-walking the route Thursday afternoon. She said the presence of the Rocky Hollow neighbors adds to the comfort factor of running through the neighborhood, but it’s also motivating.
“Oh, I look forward to them,” she said. “It gets me from one station to the next.”
Mike Miller, 44, said he doesn’t sense any of the discomfort running through the Rocky Hollow neighborhood, but does see the neighbors bringing the community together. “They’re wonderful people,” he said.
The association formed out of meetings last year between local officials and a group of residents concerned about increases in crime in the area. Since then, members have made efforts to get to know their neighbors, consistently communicate with police, report code violations to the city and hit the streets with trash bags to clean up the trash on the curbs and gutters.
Police Chief Shane Denham said he thinks the group’s efforts are making a difference.
“Everybody all over town is trying to use his model,” he said of the association.
Denham said the best indicator of progress might be not the number of crimes counted in the area, but rather how residents feel about living there.
“The fear factor, that’s not happening anymore,” Woodland Avenue resident Barbara Rutherford said as she manned a water station at the corner of Rocky Hollow Road and Davis Avenue Thursday. She said gunshots and drug activity have been drastically reduced recently.
“Over the past nine months we’ve seen improvements,” Maddox said. “There was a time when there was active drug dealing going on... when gunfire was a regular occurrence, now it’s not.”
While not all of the illegal activity has disappeared, much of it has moved away from the neighborhood, she said.
Meanwhile, the Sloans think their station at the corner, which they’ve run every Saturday and Thursday since June, is a good thing for the community.
“Even without the water, it’s a little presence that gives them some security,” Jimmy Sloan said, as his wife waved hello to passers-by and waited to hand off a cup of cold water to the next runner.
“They’re just as nice and appreciative as they can be,” she said of the sweat-soaked participants. “It’s been a nice thing for us.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.