Volunteers scheduled a workday in the woods south of Cave Spring on Saturday, with the goal of bringing more outdoor recreation opportunities to the community. Armed with hoes, rakes and shovels, they aim to improve the Pinhoti Trail on the Santa Claus Mountain tract, just across the county line in Polk County.

Cave Spring Mayor Rob Ware said the prospect of bringing in hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian enthusiasts in large numbers could provide a

significant economic boost, not only to Cave Spring, but to nearby Rome and Cedartown as well.

Ware said long-distance hikers using the Pinhoti Trail have been known to stay at the Tumlin House Bed and Breakfast as well as the Creekside Inn in Cave Spring, since the city is the first community of any size they get to when coming from Alabama and points south.

“I think as the Pinhoti becomes more well known, it’s going to have a greater impact,” Ware said. “The property they have south of Cave Spring could be a really significant venue if it’s developed properly. I use the mountain bike facility that they have up in the Dalton area as an indication of what it could become.”

The Snake Creek Gap Time Trial Series, which takes place on the Pinhoti west of Dalton, drew more than 500 riders this year. Many of them participated in each of the three events on the first Saturdays of January, February and March. Those riders came from as far away as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida.

If Cave Spring were to look for a community to emulate, Damascus, Va., might be that city.

Located in extreme southwest Virginia, about 25 miles off Interstate 81, Damascus was at one time home to a number of chemical-based manufacturing plants as well as a base of operations for the timber industry.

That all changed back in the ’70s when several of the plants went out of business. Even the timber industry went bust. Now the community of just fewer than 1,000 is a crossroads community for outdoor adventurers.

“We have the Appalachian Trail, the Iron Mountain Trail, the Transcontinental Bike Trail comes through here, and of course we have the Virginia Creeper (bike) Trail,” said Bill Pafford, the town treasurer.

“It’s our main source of revenue. We’re basically a tourist town, is what it comes down to. We don’t have any industry as such,” Pafford said. “One of the local residents opened a bike shop, and they all thought she was crazy, but it took off from there.”

The city hosts an annual event the weekend after Mothers Day, May 16-18 this year, called Trail Days.

“Once a year we go from a town of about 980 people to between 25,000-30,000 that will be here for Trail Days,” Pafford said. “We have vendors that will be here. All of the hiking magazines and outdoor equipment manufacturers have vendors here.”

Billy Abernathy, a member of the Cave Spring Downtown Development Authority, said more development of the Pinhoti would be an economic boost for Cave Spring.

Like Damascus, Cave Spring also serves as a crossroads for trails. The Pinhoti comes right through town, while the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail also brings motorists through the town.

“Tourism is what Cave Spring is all about, no matter what,” Abernathy said. “All it can do is grow.”

Does Cave Spring actually want to grow and become some sort of tourist destination?

“I think you can grow and retain its quaint charm,” Ware said. “Things like this would never hurt what Cave Spring is about. I think it would only enhance the community and add to it.”

Ware said he believes the city can accommodate big crowds on an occasional basis.

“The scale that we’re talking about, I think it’s do-able,” he said. “Those activities would certainly be of interest to residents of Cave Spring as well as people that would come visit.”

In Damascus, the only problem with the reliance on tourism and outdoor recreation is that it’s very seasonal. If you think Rome, Cave Spring and Cedartown just had a rough winter, you weren’t in Damascus.

“The first of November, when the leaves are going, it just about shuts down,” Pafford said.

The weather issue certainly would not be as bad in Northwest Georgia; in fact a lot of bikers prefer to ride in cool weather. It is, however, a little tough to ride in the snow.

Ware said the future of outdoor recreation and trail use in Cave Spring depends on how well-organized the plan is. Abernathy is among those leading the way.

The community is working closely with officials in Polk County, leaders of the Pinhoti Trail Association and the Conservation Fund, which has acquired nearly 1,000 acres in the area of Santa Claus Mountain.

The U.S. Forest Service, in a study for the National Trails Training Partnership, reported that forest managers across the country have concluded that outdoor recreation and ecological use of National Forests land far outstrips, pardon the pun, timber harvesting when it comes to economic value of the land.

Jim Lyons, a former U.S. Undersecretary for Agriculture, said demand for recreational opportunities was easily outstripping the supply and the demand was only increasing. The Conservation Fund clearly had that in mind when it acquired the acreage on Santa Claus Mountain in a couple of separate deals over the past 18 months.

Linde Marie Wentz, owner of Linde Marie’s Steakhouse on the Square, said she thinks the entire town will benefit tremendously from a focus on outdoor recreation.

Her restaurant currently sits right on the road-walk for the Pinhoti Trail as it comes through Cave Spring.

“All of us merchants can only benefit from it,” Wentz said. “I think it will be a big draw for the city of Cave Spring and I’m really excited about it.”