Columbia County Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith knows it will be a long road before Columbia County gets its trail.
Envisioned as a bike-and-pedestrian-friendly route weaving its way from Grovetown to Riverside Park in Evans, roughly following the route of Euchee Creek, the trail as it might one day exist remains largely conceptual. But the pieces are in place to begin, including a decisive plan of where and how the trail will allow the public to interact with nature.
Smith, who refers to the Columbia County Greenway masterplan as “a roadmap,” said funding for the first section, which will connect Grovetown to a 2,000-foot stretch of prototype trail near the Canterbury Farms subdivision, is already in place.
Smith said $250,000 will come from a state transportation grant, added to $450,000 from sales-tax funds allocated to the county’s greenspace program.
“Columbia County defines itself by the quality of life,” he said. “It’s noted for its environment. This is part of that. It’s part of making sure the county doesn’t become a concrete jungle.”
Smith said the current price projection for the full project is just north of $20 million, a sum, he readily admits, that will be far easier to absorb over an extended period of time. He said it will also require finding funding outside traditional tax revenue.
“This is going to take years and years and years,” he said. “It’s going to take lots of money and lots of negotiation and lots of grants.”
One avenue Columbia County is investigating is convincing developers that the greenway will be an asset worth their investment. He said much of the land required for the trail would be difficult to develop and believes that having tracts donated to the county and program would be beneficial for both the program and developers.
“It’s about adding another amenity,” Smith said. “And for us that would be great, because a project like this takes a lot of partners.”
Among those partners is the Augusta-based engineering firm W.R. Toole Engineers, the company tasked with the design and construction of the Grovetown-to-Canterbury phase of the project.
Tom Dunaway, senior project manager at W.R. Toole, said the Columbia County project is exciting because the plans call for a trail that runs through, rather than over, the natural environment.
“This sort of project is something we’ve done before,” he said. “We designed the Augusta canal trail and understand the need to preserve the environment, and that’s exactly the focus Columbia County wants to take.”
Dunaway said the plans call for a trail that includes a system of boardwalks going in and out of natural wetlands and at least one bridge crossing Euchee Creek.
“The appeal here will be that creek basin and the old-growth trees,” he said.
The trail system is not without precedent. In recent years, a number of municipalities and communities have invested in preserving greenspace, often through the construction of pedestrian and/or bicycle trails. Fayetteville, Ark., started a project similar to the proposed Columbia County trail in 2002, adding a few miles to its networks every year. Connie Edmonston, director of Fayetteville’s parks and recreation department, said that while there was some early resistance to the idea, the community now actively supports the system.
“Initially, people were concerned about the cost and crime,” she said. “They were worried about access to homes from the trail. But what we have learned is nobody runs down a trail to take a television.”
She said the popularity of the trail also makes it somewhat self-policing. A well-travelled trail, Edmonston said, is a safe trail.
Edmonston admitted that the trails do not take care of themselves. She said trail maintenance costs really depend on the stretch of trail.
“Tunnels are tough,” she said. “They cost a lot to maintain. More than you think and certainly more than you want.”
She said much of the maintenance cost has been absorbed through the establishment of a trail-specific volunteer program. She said it’s often the users whot maintain the trail.
“It did take people a while to buy into this,” she said. “But now they love it. Love it to death.”