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SPLOST project aims to promote waterways

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Improved access to Floyd County rivers for recreation, education, sports and tourism is part of the proposed $63.8 million special purpose, local option sales tax package.

The SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee merged three overlapping applications into a $3,639,500 earmark for waterways projects.

Mary Hardin Thornton, director of Keep Rome Floyd Beautiful, is spearheading the merger of the plans. She said some details are still being worked out with the applicants and various local organizations, but the basic budget is set.

If voters approve the SPLOST on Nov. 7, the money would go for an expansion of the Rome Floyd ECO Center, a community boathouse, more access points to the rivers and campsites for long-distance kayakers.

The Boathouse at South Meadows, $1,803,200

The linchpin of the project is the former Curtis Packing plant property off Pollock Street in South Rome. A boathouse would be built on the city-owned acreage on the Coosa River, along with a dock, an access road and parking.

The meadows would be turned into “a kind of ECO Center South,” Thornton said.

“It’s a beautiful site and it’s really close to downtown,” she said. “We can really ramp up environmental education in the community. We can show kids you don’t have to spray it with pesticides, this is how we’re going to maintain this riparian spot, this is why we have a levee system.”

Darlington School and Berry College store their boats at the ECO Center in Ridge Ferry Park. They’d be tenants at the new boathouse, Thornton said, which would free up space in the older facility. She also expects Coosa River Basin Initiative, Georgia Highlands College, Master Gardeners, Nature Conservancy and the South Rome Redevelopment Agency to be involved.

ECO Center renovations, $800,000

The bulk of the ECO Center money, more than $600,000, would go to renovating the upstairs space that’s currently in use and remodeling the downstairs that’s now being used to store boats. ECO Center Director Ben Winkelman said the education facility will have hosted 10,000 students from area schools by the end of the year.

There’s also money to add exhibits, add insulation, flood-proof the bottom floor and add a gift shop.

“We need another revenue stream coming in,” Thornton said. “We can do a lot more. We will educate generations of students at that center so it’s very important to keep it dynamic. And people who have been there are very loyal. A gift shop with branded items gives it that extra oomph.”

Some kayaks for river clean-ups and a trailer and F-250 dedicated to the Roman Holiday tour boat also are part of the ECO Center budget.

River campsites, $741,275

Dr. Frank Harbin was seeking $1.4 million for two boat-in campsites in his application to the SPLOST committee. He submitted plans used by the state of Florida on their waterway trail system that feature six screened sleeping platforms, a dining pavilion, hot showers and composting toilets, tent pads and a landing.

The allocation is only enough for one by Harbin’s projection — $125,000 for land and $616,275 for development. However, Thornton said she expects to have two, with one based at the Boathouse At South Meadows site.

“The city owns the land, so there’s a savings there,” she said. “It’s flat, there’s a sewer line already running through it and utilities.”

CRBI Executive Director Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman is looking for another site on the Oostanaula River or Etowah River, Thornton said.

“We’re going to try to find the best deal we can,” she said. “We’ll see what we can do.”

Launch sites, $280,000

Harbin also suggested adding soft-launch sites where people can enter rivers with their kayaks, canoes and inner tubes. Thornton said they will likely be able to do two with the funding, but the locations have yet to be determined.

“We’re looking at several sites; one just past the ECO Center, maybe one by (State Mutual Stadium) or Armuchee,” she said. “There are plenty of places where we’d like to have launches on our river system.”

As with the campsites, she said, “the permitting is where most of the cost comes in.”

River signage, $15,000

Plans are to erect six signs at river access points at Grizzard Park, Heritage Park, Ridge Ferry Park, Ga. 140 and the two new soft launches. The signs will include river maps, safety information and historic interpretation.

Thornton said they’ll join the Etowah River Water Trail network and use the same style.

“It connects us with tourism and will be another tool for all of us to promote Rome,” she said.