Projects will add more miles to North Oconee Greenway

Athens’ network of greenway trails is about to get a lot bigger — more than doubling the North Oconee River’s present stretches of about four miles.

 

Workers have already begun clearing land on two new paths along the river.

One segment begins near the old mill building now home to the University of Georgia School of Social Work, then makes its way along the river to an edge of Oconee Hill Cemetery.

A second segment starts near the Waffle House on U.S. Highway 78, makes its way down to the river, goes by an Athens-Clarke County wastewater treatment plant and to another edge of Oconee Hill Cemetery.

Those paths could be completed early next year, said Mel Cochran, administrator of the park services division of Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services.

Athens-Clarke County officials are negotiating with cemetery trustees for right of way to connect those two stretches with a segment that would run in the floodplain on cemetery property and go over a sewer pipe, Cochran said.

Funding is also in place for a pedestrian and bicycle bridge connecting the greenway to the University of Georgia’s East Campus and a further extension of the greenway out to Horseshoe Bend, a UGA-owned area used for ecological research off College Station Road.

The projects are mainly being paid for with proceeds from a voter-approved 1 percent sales tax dedicated to construction projects, along with some funding from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Those projects would add about four miles to the network, in addition to the 3.5 miles of greenway that already stretch from Sandy Creek Nature Center to Dudley Park. The four-mile Cook’s Trail that runs from the nature center to Sandy Creek Park and about 7.5 miles of trail around the nature center and in the park are also considered part of the greenway network, but for now are unpaved and for foot traffic only. But the Oconee Rivers Greenway Commission plans see Cook’s Trail becoming a multiuse trail, said Greenways Commission chair Nat Kuykendall.

Other high-priority future projects include an in-town segment along Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, an area now where walkers, runners and cyclists must leave the greenway at College Avenue and cross over city streets to pick up the greenway again at Broad Street.

Meanwhile, a separate project is underway — the first stage of the Firefly Trail, a cycling-pedestrian route built on an abandoned rail line. The first portion will run from Dudley Park, where it intersects with the greenway, to Old Winterville Road. Eventually, it could carry users to Winterville and beyond.

The projects will change the nature of the greenway, especially with the addition of the Firefly Trail, said Cochran and Kuykendall.

“The greenway will continue to be a recreational experience,” Cochran said, but it will also be a transportation and commuter route for cyclists and pedestrians.

“All of these things are starting to come together and we’re getting the connectivity we’re hoping for,” Kuykendall said.

Maps of the existing, upcoming and proposed greenway segments are at the website https://www.athensclarkecounty.com/7143/Greenway-Network-Plan.

Follow Lee Shearer at www.facebook.com/LeeShearerABH or https://twitter.com/LeeShearer.

 

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