A long awaited opportunity to build an interconnected greenway throughout Columbia County finally has plans in motion.
After the county received the nod of approval from voters in November for a $60 million General Obligation Bond agreement, county planning services department Director Andrew Strickland said a request for bids for design services was sent out a few weeks ago.
"We are getting some engineers to submit some proposals, and we will hopefully get that back before the end of the month, Strickland said. "From there we select the design firm to actually design it and then prepare those construction drawings. It will probably be like six to eight months of preparation and then at the end of the eight months we will put it out for bid and see who wants to build it."
The project, which is being funded by the general obligation bond, is estimated to cost nearly $21 million for 27 miles of paved running, walking and bike paths, throughout the county.
Once completed the Euchee Creek Greenway will make it possible for people to walk, bike or run to Patriot's Park, Blanchard Woods, Savannah Rapids Pavillion and the Augusta Canal and other places.
Strickland said the project is likely to take nearly a decade to complete and construction will be broken down into phases. The number of phases currently sits at six, and that number may change. The first phase, Strickland said, is estimated to cost approximately $8 million.
"Phase 1 will start essentially at Canterbury Farms, go under I-20 to Patriot's Park and then that's the Southern phase and the Northern Phase of phase 1 would be from Riverwood to Blanchard Woods Park," Strickland said. "The longterm goal is to connect back down Furys Ferry to Evans To Locks with a multiuse path, which goes out to the river and then from the river at Savannah Rapids, it connects at the Headgates trail, the canal trail and it goes down to the greenway."
The idea of tackling the large project in pieces is not only cost effective but important to the overall design, which involves looping each phase back to where it started, so visitors do not have to reach and point and then turn around and go back the same way they came.
"Putting it in phases, lets us save money and do it more cost effectively," Strickland said. "We are trying to be as smart about it as possible, make it as usable as possible and those loops are really important for that."
Strickland said dirt is not expected to move on the project for at least another six months, but the project has been at the forefront of many residents' minds for nearly a decade, so the progress the new bond allows, is welcome progress for many.
"I think the original idea for a greenway was around 2006 so it's been at least 10 years of an idea," Strickland said. "I think funding didn't really come in for construction until maybe six years ago or so."
With the county's new bond, Strickland said the project will get funding right away, once the bond has officially been sold and will allow them to construct the greenway much faster.
In the meantime, a group of greenway and greenspace advocates have started a Friends of the Euchee Creek Greenway in an effort to make the coming greenway a destination.
"Our mission and our job is to craft the public message and to inspire public ownership," said member Marlena Bergeron. "We want people to feel like this is theirs, because it is theirs, because the greenway will belong to everybody and if you feel like you own something you are more likely to take care of it. So our hope is to promote stewardship, sustainability and safe usage habits."
New to the group initiative is Paul Farrow of the Southern Off-road Bicycle Association of the CSRA, who said that the greenway will benefit all varieties of people.
"It's going to help people enjoy getting outside, finding new areas that have never been seen before. It's going to help in the health aspect of it, too. Get people away from the TV, and get them outside," Farrow said. "With the greenway, it's a multiuse path, they'll be able to cycle on it, they'll be able to hike on it, they'll be able to run on it, so it's a lot of users, a lot of people will be able to use it. I think once they start using it, they'll see the benefits of it."
Presently, more than a mile of greenway exists at Canterbury Farms in Grovetown, originally constructed by the neighborhood's developers. After its construction, the developers deeded the greenway path to the county. And the 10-foot wide concrete path winding through the greenspace is similar to the ultimate design the county has in mind for the entire greenway. Strickland said that wider paths, up to 12-feet wide, are being discussed for certain areas.
Marsha Hamlin, a career naturalist, said she isn't a fan of the paved paths, but that the greenway is an initiative she has been working on as a member of the Columbia County Greenspace Program, which is a larger initiative behind the greenway. The Greenspace program aims to make 20 percent of Columbia County devoted to greenspace.
"I have been on the greenspace advisory board since 2011, since then we've been kind of working on getting a greenway here," Hamlin said. "I am definitely of the impression that we have to get people out in nature before they can appreciate it. I don't like to modify nature too much, but I think people need to get out to appreciate it."
Bergeron said that the greenway friends group's aim is similar to the initiative surrounding the Augusta Canal, and hopes to include opportunities for groups and individuals to "adopt a mile" on the greenway, along with other initiatives.
"We are going to have some interfacing with public art projects, on a rotation basis, so I think it will not only give people a reason to get out but to see what's new there," Bergeron said. "So you're learning, you're seeing art, you're inspired and you feel healthier and happier."
For Bergeron, the greenway is an opportunity to access the parks that have often proven difficult to access.
"I live five minutes from Patriots Park and none of us can safely bike there and then you wait 20 minutes for a parking spot and to me that makes no sense and for me that's why the greenway is so exciting," Bergeron said. "For us, it just make sense to be able to bike to places within biking distance and to be able to walk to places within walking distance."
Fostering the community ownership is what Bergeron said will keep people supporting the greenway.
"I think when you use something you just fall in love with it and the more you use it, the more important it becomes to you, and the greenway will be something like that," Bergeron said. "The more people that use it the more that they will love it, the more they will care about it, the more they will want to just see it in good shape."
The friends group also provides a place of advocacy for the county, who Strickland said plans to seek community input as the phases progress on spinoff portions of the greenway for play areas, or workout equipment and other features.
"We want this to be something everybody is proud of and accepts and the best way to do that is to involve everybody in the process, so I would definitely see some meetings, to say ‘just as a heads up, hey this is what we've got so far,'" Strickland said. "We are intentional about this, we want to make this happen. I think the community has waited long enough for something like this, it's time to get it done."
And the friends group will make it easier to keep the public involved, Farrow added.
"This particular organization is going to give the public an opportunity to have a better voice back to the county," Farrow said. "So while the public can easily go to the county now as individuals and give their input, it's always a lot better and the county will listen better when you have an organized group of people."
Bergeron said that while the friends group and the greenway itself are not new concepts, it is new to Columbia County and through the friends group, it can become a source of pride for generations for years to come.
"I think there is a drum beat in the ground now that we know that if we don't say something and we don't voice how much we care about these things, there really is no guarantee that they will be kept the way they are," Bergeron said. "Or that they will grow in a way that is beautiful and helpful to everybody in the community and still be beautiful for the next generation, unless we make an active effort now to protect them and to cultivate them and to make them something that's special."
The Friends of the Euchee Creek Greenway can be contacted through Facebook @friendsofECG or via email FriendsofECG@outlook.com. An open house for anyone interested in joining the group will take place in mid-March.