Columbia County looks to turn Greenspace into a cross county trail
Columbia County has been quietly acquiring land for a trail that will stretch from Riverside Park to Grovetown. Thanks to an agreement with a local developer, a prototype section of the trail already exists, and the county plans to use a $250,000 Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) grant to link it to the already established trail in Grovetown.
Such a plan didn’t appear overnight, however. Over the last six or seven years, the county’s Greenspace Advisory Board has been acquiring land along the Euchee Creek corridor with the hopes of creating this linked trail system, called the Euchee Creek Greenway Trail, a 23-mile, $20 million project leaders hope will help make Columbia County a more desirable place to live.
According to Barry Smith, director of the Community and Leisure Services division, the prototype trail section was built behind Canterbury Farms subdivision on Chamblin Road about two years ago.
“It’s a great example of the specifications that we’re wanting to do,” Smith says. “A concrete trail that will meander through forestland.”
In this case, the county purchased the land with SPLOST money and the developer built the trail.
“He added a lot of money to it and built this wonderful prototype,” Smith says.
Having a robust greenway system is considered an indicator of the kind of forward-looking community people are anxious to relocate to, which is one of the reasons the county has been devoting so much attention to the trail.
“If you investigate progressive communities with tremendous quality of life, you’ll certainly see that a trail system or a greenway or a bike path — an alternative route of transportation — is included in the planning,” Smith says.
When the county put together its Recreation Master Plan, surveys found that a greenway was a desirable amenity that citizens wanted introduced in the county.
The Columbia County Greenspace Program began in 2002.
“The governor then had a greenspace program and we were bestowed $1.1 million one year and something similar after,” he says. “It was for fast-growing communities to preserve land and put it in permanent protection.”
With a portion of that money, the county purchased some initial land along Euchee Creek as well as other places, notably the geologically significant Heggies Rock, which was a partnership with the Nature Conservancy out of Atlanta, and 52 acres behind the Rivershire subdivision.
As the program matured, the Greenspace Advisory Board began narrowing its focus, attempting to consolidate the land around the Euchee Creek corridor.
The ultimate goal of the greenspace program is for 20 percent of the county’s total acreage to be set aside in greenspace, which for Columbia County figures out to be about 30,100 acres. Currently, the county is approaching 12,000 acres.
It’s advantageous to plan a greenspace trail for less developed areas, Smith says, because locating a trail where subdivisions are going to be is less costly and less controversial than trying to retrofit an existing subdivision.
Rivershire, for example, expressed some reluctance with the idea of a public trail cutting through the private subdivision, which is why Smith decided to apply the grant to connect the Grovetown trail to the Canterbury Farm trail. There, the developers of Creek Bend and Indian Springs favored the idea, and he hopes to capitalize on that enthusiasm.
“This is giving us a show and tell project,” he says. “I think the main thing that I’m most excited about is, instead of being resistant to a wonderful greenway, these developers are embracing it.”
The two developers each donated the land and the county is then applying the $250,000 grant plus $400,000 of SPLOST money earmarked for greenway to build the connector to the Grovetown trail.
According to Grovetown Administrator Shirley Beasley, the Grovetown trails are about 10 years old.
“The original trail is the one between Harlem Grovetown Road and Wrightsboro Road,” she says. “It’s been done basically in segments and we’re working on Phase Three right now, which is across Harlem Grovetown Road going back to Reynolds Farm Road.”
Beasley says that trail will eventually connect to the existing trail, though not immediately.
As for the maintenance, Smith is anxious to avoid that if possible.
“The stewardship aspect of it — we’re hoping the subdivisions themselves will take care of it, which Canterbury Farms embraced right away,” he says. “Of course, if a big tree goes down, we would definitely go out and get that up.”
Any law enforcement issues will be handled by the Sheriff’s Department, but Smith says those should be very unlikely.
“Generally on greenways, you’re attracting more of an outdoor-related person,” he says. “Statistically, greenways don’t attract crime.”
Though initially reluctant, Smith says developers are beginning to view trail systems as amenities — selling points for an increasingly urbanized world.
“I think this project will be a great marketing tool for the county to show that a greenway is wanted,” he says.
And having land, the master plan and the cooperation of developers could also make it easier to win grant money down the road.
Because the DOT is involved, the current project is likely a year from beginning. Any time the DOT is involved, there are lots of time-consuming environmental assessments to be done, and because additional phases will require bridges across Euchee Creek, completion of the entire trail will likely take at least 10 years to complete.
“It’s a big, big vision that’s beginning to come into being, he says.You Might Also Like: