The Oconee Rivers Greenway—a walking/biking trail along the North Oconee river with additional connections to other points—will continue to expand, attendees at a Federation of Neighborhoods forum heard last week. But building (and funding) trails is a slow process, and not all citizens support them.
“There are a lot of people that think that these are silly little trails that we’re making… I got an email that said, ‘Are you guys crazy?'” said ACC Commissioner Allison Wright, who participated in the forum with Greenway commissioners Karen Porter and Nancy Stangle and acting Leisure Services Director Kent Kilpatrick.
But these days, executives with many companies look for amenities like urban trails when they consider bringing new business to a city. And cities like Columbus and Greenville, SC have upped tourism with well-planned greenways, Stangle said. The trails—totaling 24 miles so far in Athens-Clarke County—have been funded mostly through penny sales taxes, and participants urged people to vote for the T-SPLOST (“Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax”) in November. A 1 percent sales tax levy produces nearly $2 million a month for local government, of which 40 percent is paid by people who visit ACC but don’t live here, Wright said.
First priority for growing the Greenway—a “multigenerational” process of funding, getting permission or buying property (voluntarily only) from private owners, and finally construction—will be to “get the river corridor complete,” said Kilpatrick, but many other connecting trails are also planned. Detailed maps on the county’s website show planned trails along the Middle Oconee, extending eventually through Ben Burton Park to the county-owned Tallassee Forest, and from Sandy Creek Nature Center to Holland Park and beyond along the North Oconee. Eventual multi-use side trails are planned to UGA, the ACC library, Satterfield Park and beyond along a trail paralleling Lexington Road, and construction has already begun on a connection from UGA to the park-and-ride lot on Lexington Road.
T-SPLOST would fund an underpass underneath Oconee Street from Dudley Park, and eventually Cook’s Trail along Sandy Creek could be bikeable as well as walkable. “There are plans for connections throughout the county,” Porter said.
Building trails “is what the younger generation wants,” Wright said, “but it is not always easy to sell.” Some homeowners don’t want a public trail nearby, fearing it will bring crime (trails usually bring higher property values instead). “That’s why it’s a multigenerational project,” Kilpatrick said.
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