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It is a planned, partially constructed, multi-purpose path for pedestrian, bicycle, and other non-motorized uses that will stretch 39 miles from Athens to Union Point, Georgia. It will be built on or near the historic corridor of the Athens Branch of the Georgia Railroad. One mile is open and nine more are in progress.
Rail-trails are paths that follow the routes of abandoned or otherwise out-of-use railroads. They provide a safe, off-road resource for walking, running, bicycling, skating, and other non-motorized uses. Being wide, level (railroads need gentle grades), and connected to communities, they are perfectly suited to people of all ages and abilities, providing tangible benefits for health, safety, historic preservation, active transportation, community pride, and economic development. Rail-trails may be paved, made of crushed rock, or even left as dirt. They range from half a mile to more than 240 miles long.
Its northern terminus is on East Broad Street in Athens and its southern terminus will be in downtown Union Point. The trail will pass through three counties – Athens-Clarke, Greene and Oglethorpe – and connect, from north to south, Athens, Winterville, Arnoldsville, Crawford, Stephens, Maxeys, Hutchins, Woodville and Union Point. It will also connect numerous businesses, churches, parks and schools to nearby neighborhoods, creating safe routes for active transportation.
Trails are safe places for exercise and active transportation, so they help people of all ages combat cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and other effects of inactive lifestyles. By separating bike and pedestrian traffic from roadways, trails can improve safety. Trails bring foot and bicycle traffic, which is good for business, and long trails often attract significant tourism. Trails can be resources for historic preservation and education, as well as corridors for nature. Trails tend to reduce crime in the areas they serve and increase nearby property values. They help the poor by making car-free transportation safer and more comfortable. Ultimately, they make communities more attractive places to live and work, which helps recruit and retain investment in new businesses, industries, and residents.
Athens-Clarke County has completed a 0.8-mile segment of the Firefly Trail from East Broad Street to Old Winterville Road, including bridges over the North Oconee River and Peter Street. Athens-Clarke County voters approved a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) in 2017 that will provide $16.7 million toward creating the trail in Winterville, crossing Trail Creek, and building as much of the trail as possible between Athens and Winterville.
Also, Maxeys and Union Point have secured $100,000 recreational trails grants to build Model Miles, and Firefly Trail Inc., has raised more than $200,000 to help them and other communities provide local matching funds. Riverview Foundation, W&A Engineering, and the National Park Service have come on board as major sponsors, and Firefly Trail, Inc. has recruited a part-time Trail Development Coordinator to spearhead work on building the trail. The Georgia Department of Transportation commissioned an economic impact analysis in 2016 that estimated the trail, when completed, will attract about 1.1 million users per year with a total economic impact of $14.7 million annually.
The Georgia Railroad, Georgia’s first state-chartered railroad, opened in 1841 to connect Athens to Augusta by way of Union Point. Originally, it terminated in Athens at Carr's Hill, but in 1888, bridges were added over Trail Creek and the North Oconee River to bring trains into downtown. The Athens Branch was abandoned in 1984 by CSX Transportation, which finished removing rails and other structures by 2000. Public outcry over the demolition of the Trail Creek trestle, made famous by the band R.E.M., led Athens-Clarke County to buy the trestle in 2001.
No. While some portions may still be owned by CSX, most of the corridor has reverted to original/adjoining landowners. For some portions, ownership is unclear. Firefly Trail, Inc. has heard from a number of property owners who are eager to help make the trail a reality. Unfortunately, some property owners are opposed to the trail.
Athens-Clarke County is now accepting Requests for Proposals for ways to get the trail across the valley at railroad grade. Options may include renovating the existing structure, building a new bridge and stabilizing the railroad viaduct, or demolishing and building new. In the meantime, trail users will continue to descend to an existing Greenway bridge over the creek.
Cost depends on how much of the corridor is donated, what surface material is used (concrete, asphalt, or crushed cinders) and how much grading is required. The hope in ACC is that $16.7 million in TSPLOST funds will complete much of the trail through Winterville. In rural areas, the per-mile cost likely will be much lower. The 2016 economic impact study estimates total construction cost will be about $24 million.
Lots of sources over time. Most long trails are built in segments as funding becomes available. Funding for the first ACC segments came from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes and federal and state grants. Possible future sources include private donations; transportation sales taxes; special purpose local option sales taxes; gifts and grants from private businesses, industries and foundations; public fundraisers, and a variety of state and federal programs.
Yes. The big vision is that the Firefly Trail will be the first part of a network of trails serving the entire region, including Watkinsville, Madison and Greensboro. Also, we are in the process of improving the bicycle and sidewalk infrastructure within Athens-Clarke County and expanding the Greenway network (a Greenway extension that is accessible from the Firefly Trail’s Old Winterville Road trailhead opened in 2018).
Firefly Trail, Inc. needs volunteers, advocates and donors! For more information, please visit their website or send them an email. Firefly Trail Inc., is a 501(c)3 organization, so donations are tax-exempt to the full extent allowed by law. Thank you for your support! Contact Firefly Trail, Inc. at firstname.lastname@example.org