Russell Lands On Lake Martin: Alabama’s largest recreational landowner is focused on the lakePublished 4:34pm Monday, April 4, 2011
The Russell family has been a fixture in Alexander City and the Tallapoosa County area for more than a century now, and Russell Lands On Lake Martin remains a large part of that heritage.
When Russell Lands was spun off from the Russell Corporation in 1960, family members, including Ben Russell, CEO and chairman of Russell Lands, kept the company private and began building neighborhoods on the lake.
Since 1972, Russell Lands has been selling plots of land for custom building and creating amenitized neighborhoods to cater to individuals wanting to live the lake life.
Today Russell Lands is the largest recreational landowner in Alabama, with more than 25,000 acres in land holdings around Lake Martin.
The first neighborhood created was Willow Point Estates, which is built around the private Willow Point Golf & County Club that features 18 holes with bent grass greens that has been called “America’s most beautiful lake course.”
Since then, the company has created a dozen neighborhoods. One of the newest communities is The Ridge, which so far has roughly 300 residents and is home to The Ridge Marina, the largest marina and dry storage facility in the U.S. that isn’t located on the coast.
“A lot of people house their boats at the marina,” according to Roger Holliday, vice president of Russell Lands. “Some of these boats serve as lake houses and the people who own them are just as content to live on them.”
The centerpiece of Russell Lands On Lake Martin is the Russell Crossroads “town center,” situated on Alabama Highway 63, just north of Kowaliga Bridge.
Holliday said three years ago the area was all backwoods. “Since then we’ve transformed the Crossroads area into the hub for our neighborhoods,” he said.
Russell Crossroads, which is designed to look like an upscale, rural town, is centrally located a quarter of a mile from the water on each side of Highway 63 and is a short ride from the majority of the land holdings. At Crossroads, you can shop at Catherine’s Market, dine at SpringHouse and ride horses at The Stables.
“You could drive into town and get a gallon of milk,” Holliday said. “But by the time you go and come back, you’ve spent 45 minutes on the trip. At Catherine’s Market, you can ride your golf cart and get the same gallon of milk in half the time.”
Holliday said the Alabama Department of Transportation is working to lower and straighten Highway 63 to make the Crossroads more accessible. Although it’s taken more time than expected, Holliday is confident the project will soon be finished.
“We want to build a tunnel under the highway for our residents. That way you don’t have to cross a busy highway to access Crossroads,” Holliday said. “Once that’s finished, you can access everything Russell Lands has to offer from either side of the highway without having to get in your car.”
Holliday said one of the current goals of the company is to have something going on all the time from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
“One of the things we’re going to continue doing this summer is at 7 o’clock on Saturday mornings, we will have a yoga class on the Town Green,” Holliday said.
In 1998, the Lake Martin Amphitheater was built to widespread acclaim. The venue is home to concert series ever year. In 2009 Russell Lands hosted the widely popular AquaPalooza – a concert held on the shores of Kowaliga bay – featuring Alan Jackson as the keynote artist.
Holliday said the company is currently trying to finish booking the acts for this summer’s concert series.
Ben Russell had a lot of the vision for the company in his head.
“When we were getting ready to build The Stables, Mr. Russell designed the building on his personal computer,” Holliday said.
Since the construction of The Stables, the facility has hosted a Derby Day celebration, weddings, rehearsals, birthday parties and a do-si-do Western style party last fall.
The Stables is also home to the saddle of Mr. Ben Russell, founder of the Russell Corporation. Holliday said it was restored and is on display for everyone to see.
“The story goes that every morning Mr. Ben would saddle his horse and check on the town with his dog, Big Pup,” Holliday said. “He’d go ride through the mill and down to the bank to make sure everything was fine. When he was out of town, Big Pup would make the rounds without him, so it was like he was still there.”
Russell Forest also has one of the signature man-made rock formations that Holliday says is part of Ben Russell’s vision for Russell Lands.
One of the things Russell Lands is proud of is that the company was “into green before green was in.”
“ADEM highlighted our sewage storage facility as a model,” Holliday said.
Steve Forehand, vice president and general counsel at Russell Lands, said the reason why the system was highlighted is because it shows how non-point discharge in wastewater systems should be implemented.
“It’s called a cluster wastewater system,” Forehand said. “It serves a large number of residences or businesses, but isn’t connected to a municipal system.
“It’s kind of like a septic tank, but has a higher level of treatment before reaching the field lines,” he said.
Another example of the company’s green leaning is that the timbers used to build The Stables and the lamp posts at Russell Crossroads were made from trees grown on the property itself.
Marianne Hudson is the staff naturalist for Russell Lands. Not only is she responsible for educating the public on the plants and animals on the property through their Naturalist Cabin, but she’s also a member of Auburn University’s Southeastern Raptor Center and one of the trainers for War Eagle.
There are also fruit trees that have been planted on the Green Way trail to establish sustainable farming operations, Holliday said.
Not just environmentally friendly, Holliday said the company is also devoted to preserving and restoring the history of the land.
“We’ve partially restored and remodeled the old Benson School,” Holliday said. “There’s also an old turpentine mill we’ve recently uncovered that we’re working on, as well.”
According to Ben Russell, he doesn’t see himself as doing anything new.
“My grandfather, Mr. Ben Russell, was the real visionary,” Russell said. “His love of the land and the protection of what would eventually become the shoreline of Lake Martin created this pristine resource we enjoy today. Our job is to make sure that generations to come have the same opportunity to enjoy this lake and this land.”
Ben Russell and his wife Luanne established Children’s Harbor, which is the primary charity of Russell Lands. The Children’s Harbor campus, with its working lighthouse and beautiful maritime architecture, provides free support for children with long-term serious illnesses. The organization also includes Children’s Harbor Family Resource and Counseling Center at Children’s Hospital in Birmingham.
The Russells also founded CARE Alabama in 1987, which is an organization devoted to eliminating global poverty. The Russells match every individual gift to CARE up to $25,000 and all gifts up to $250,000.
Russell Lands is also actively involved in the community. According to Robert Gunn, director of events and social media for Russell Lands, they contribute to the Alexander City Jazz Festival yearly.
“The Jazz Fest was originally one night, but several years ago it was expanded to two nights. On Saturday, the second night of the festival, we sponsor the celebration at The Amp on Lake Martin,” Gunn said.
The Lake Martin Arts Council is the non-profit governing body at the Lake Martin Amphitheater, and showcases art and cultural events.
~ Kris Kallies