Annabelle Vestal: Sidewalk Advocate

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As a kindergartener, Annabelle Vestal asked the Mayor of Fairhope if a sidewalk could be built to connect her neighborhood to the city’s sidewalk system. “I wanted to walk to the pier and to my Opa’s house,” Vestal recalls. When the Mayor explained the process of city planning and budgeting, the response did not deter the 5-year-old—it gave her a plan of action.

Upon learning that her neighborhood falls under the county’s jurisdiction, Vestal met with the Baldwin County Commissioners to request a cost analysis for the .2-mile sidewalk that would connect Meadowbrook neighborhood to the sidewalk at the intersection of Gayfer Road Extension and Bishop Road. When she was told that it would cost $75,000 and that funding was not available, she began documenting traffic patterns and initiated a petition, garnering 65 signatures in support of the sidewalk.

Armed with research and citizen support, Vestal asked Fairhope to partner with the county to fund the project. The Mayor then suggested that she present her proposal to the Eastern Shore Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Policy Board. Moved by the student’s confidence and passion, the board unanimously agreed to earmark funds in the 2016 budget. In 2017, after 5 years of hard work—which included the baking of lots of cookies for local officials—Vestal finally got her sidewalk. She was also the first recipient of the Baldwin County Trailblazer’s Giraffe Award—an award for individuals who stick their neck out to make a difference in their community.

Walking on the sidewalk almost daily to Fairhope Intermediate School, she remains an ambassador for the walkway and advocates for its upkeep. “I am proof that every voice, no matter how small, matters,” Vestal says. “Even kids can make big and little differences just by doing the things that make us, us.”