Don Holley

Gordon County Parks and Recreation Director Don Holley

For those in Gordon County who like being outdoors, the Gordon County Parks and Recreation could soon offer a new trail system for public use.

Gordon County Parks and Recreation Director Don Holley presented a plan at the last meeting of the Gordon County Commission for a feasibility study and master plan for a “Greenbelt and Blueways” trail system. The plan was approved at the Commission’s meeting on Tuesday.

Holley told the commission that Gordon County had been approved by the Appalachian Regional Commission to receive a $35,000 grant to prepare the feasibility study and master plan for the system, which would link community facilities and resources through a series of walking and biking trails and waterways. The effort will serve to identify priority connections and infrastructure and evaluate costs of construction and maintenance to guide future investment in recreation.

Holley said the idea and plans for this project started almost two years ago.

“We were contacted by a couple of people who were interested in a trail system, and we discussed it,” said Holley. “The next time we met, we had some maps of the county and everybody took turns drawing on it, explaining what their individual vision was; what points of interest would connect and how they would connect. The next time we met, somebody in the group knew Ed McBrayer with the PATH Foundation.”

The PATH Foundation has built many off-road trails in and around Atlanta for walkers, runners, cyclists and skaters, including the Silver Comet Trail, which travels through Cobb, Paulding and Polk counties.

“We had him (McBrayer) come up and speak to the group,” said Holley. “He said that what the group had described to him sounded a lot like the Carrollton Greenbelt Project.”

The Carrollton GreenBelt, a 16-mile trail system designed for pedestrians and non-motorized uses, will be the largest paved loop trail system in the state of Georgia once completed. The Carrollton GreenBelt serves the Carrollton-Carroll County community in several ways, primarily in a recreational capacity. The community is also encouraged to use the trail as an alternative to traveling by vehicle.

“(McBrayer) started talking about how we could raise the money to do a plan,” said Holley. “We learned about the Appalachian Regional Commission and obtaining grant money under their program. We met with some folks with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, and they explained the ARC grant and the steps we needed to take to get it, so we started an application process. The Board of Commissioners helped with the process, along with Representative Tom Graves and his staff, utilizing their help with the application and grant writing process.

“We submitted our pre-application last fall and found out early this year that our project had made the Governor’s priority list. About a month ago, we received an email from ARC that our project had been funded.”

The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved an amendment to the fiscal year 2016 budget in the amount of $50,000 for the Appalachian Regional Commission Trails Master Plan Grant with a county match.

“We will start putting together bid documents to solicit firm that will perform work on the plan; we will start on it immediately,” said Holley. “I would expect that to take a month or so. Once a firm is selected after that period, we will move forward with the actual planning process, the mapping and connecting point A to point B; what will be most beneficial to the county residents.”

Holley said the trail system will hopefully allow the public to use all the local resources available to them in and be more safely accessible at the same time.

“We’ve got a beautiful 75 acre park in Sonoraville, so the hope is that (with the trail system) anyone can walk safely to it without having to walk along or cross Highway 53,” said Holley. “We are looking at points of interest without necessarily having to get on the road. Some of the initial benefits will be the health and safety of our community. People can use it to exercise. We don’t have a lot of places to walk, run or bicycle safely.”

He added that the trail plans will try to take into account the best possible locations to help connect different local resources and help Gordon County residents in several different capacities.

“We don’t want to build a trail just to build a trail,” said Holley. “We want to do our best to connect neighborhoods to schools and neighborhoods to shopping. We want to get people to be active. If you look at other trails, like the Silver Comet Trail and the Chattanooga Trail, those trails are bustling with activity by both bicyclers, walkers and runners.

“I know Rome is trying to connect to Cave Spring now, to connect to the Silver Comet, because of the economic benefit along these trail systems. The maintenance is minimal so you are investing in the community and it kind of becomes a destination activity.”

According to Holley, the project could come from SPLOST funds or from foundation grants.

“The idea thing to do would be to connect with some of the foundations that have provided money to some of the other trail systems in the state,” said Holley. “The foundations provide that money by not only giving cash donations but also with easements along creeks and streams. We would love to see businesses get on board and help with the project.”

Calhoun Times Managing Editor Brandi Owczarz contributed to this report.