Last week’s episode started at Climax and went downhill after that. Unfortunately, it also went uphill. In case you missed the fun, this is about the probability of a level, traffic-protected corridor accommodating walkers, runners, bikers, skaters and pushers of baby carriages and grocery carts. This is about the fact that railroads run along level surfaces, that they cut through hills and throw bridges across streams to avoid pulling freight up a grade, and we’ve got an abandoned rail bed that runs from the city transit station on East Broad Street to the bypass on the east side. And it’s for sale, and we’ve already bought the first leg of it, and we’ve got $11 million in the bank, some federal, mostly local, to buy the rest of it and to get started converting it into a level path to the east side for commuting and recreation.
So, we have a good start on the money for this project, most of it voted by local citizens specifically for the purpose of building this trail on the railroad bed. But, you might ask, why spend so much money on a frill for the leisure class? Well, alternative transportation that gets us off our crowded streets and makes us less dependent on gasoline while it improves our physical health is no longer a frill. Then consider that this rail line runs right alongside one of the largest lower-income areas in town, offering everybody over there free, easy access to the multimodal center and downtown businesses.
But wait, there’s more. The abandoned rail bed runs straight out to Winterville, and from there it strikes off across the countryside through Crawford and Maxeys all the way to Union Point, a town busy reinventing itself as an arts center. A non-profit group is working to establish the whole 39-mile rail route from Athens to Union Point as the “Firefly Trail,” named for the engine that used to spew sparks as it made the trip. That trail could turn Winterville into our first bicycle suburb and provide a popular route for cyclists, skaters and walkers to head out on a safe path that also provides some economic benefits to the small towns along the way. And in this direction, all these travelers end up downtown, where, fortunately, Dr. Jack Crowley’s downtown master plan study group is enthusiastic about the impact of the rail-trail.
The track traversed what is now known as the “Murmur Trestle” across Trail Creek in Dudley Park, just beyond the North Oconee from downtown. That structure has stood abandoned for 12 years since being partially demolished. Rehabilitating it and using it for the rail-trail is far too expensive, and coming down off the trail to avoid the trestle destroys the whole concept of using the level rail bed. Fortunately, there is a solution that preserves the character of the Tinker-Toy-like trestle while providing a modern crossing of the creek at railroad elevation. As you can see in the picture, the Capital Crescent Trail outside Washington, D.C. had a quite similar set of circumstances in an old trestle over Rock Creek. They have solved it with a brilliant facsimile, updating the old trestle while retaining its look at a cost of $1.3 million. The Murmur Trestle here is the last conceptual obstacle to our own rail-trail, and it will be interesting to see if all of us—music fans, preservationists, alternative transportation enthusiasts, businesses, government and planners can get together and agree that building the trail is the primary priority.
We’re way behind schedule. It’s time to get on board and make the sparks fly!