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'Highlands to Islands' path project looks at its future

By Marc Eggers Anchor / Reporter
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CHEROKEE BLUFFS PARK – South Hall Business Coalition members were updated Tuesday morning by members of the Vision 2030 Committee on the progress of the “Highlands to Islands” trail project.

“Once you get concrete paths, once you see what it does, then private land owners start to want to be a part of that,” Vision 2030 member Jason Everett told the audience.

Everett explained that it has taken decades of effort to get the interconnecting trails through Hall County to become a reality, but now that people see the trails in place they realize the value and viability of the project and are anxious to support their advancement.

“One of our goals is ‘Thirty by Thirty’,” Phil Bonelli said, “to have thirty miles of connected trail in Hall County by (year) 2030.” Bonelli is also on the Vision 2030 Committee.

He added that his group has been approached by leaders in Gwinnett and Forsyth Counties with offers of Hall County linking to the system of trails under development in their counties.

“Linking up with these different systems means ultimately the sky is the limit,” Bonelli said.

Everett and Bonelli said momentum is growing now that the project is in motion and visible to the general public.

Everett pointed at a new project about to start that involves a highly visible portion of the trail paralleling Atlanta Highway through the Chicopee area but ending at the golf course.

“They are about to start on Monday tunneling under the road (Atlanta Highway) and it will be a very short connection to get over to the University of North Georgia,” Everett said.

When asked what routes were planned next, Bonelli and Everett began listing numerous ideas being considered but admitted it can be difficult matching demand with available funding and then with governing agencies’ policies.

“Hall County has a big struggle that a lot of communities don’t in that we have an MPO,” Everett said.  He was referring to the Gainesville-Hall Metropolitan Planning Organization.

“So you’ve got to get all these municipalities to communicate and coordinate and make one trail,” he added.

And that process could get more complicated as a “blue-way” is under consideration.  A “blue-way” is the aquatic version of a “green-way”, as the terrestrial trail route is sometimes known.

Adding a “blue-way” of marine trails on Lake Lanier connecting the Olympic Rowing Venue to Don Carter State Park or to Wilshire Park near Gainesville High School would involve the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and that could further complicate efforts.

“I’ve talked to Morgan House over at the Olympic Venue as well as the Chattahoochee River Keepers, and they are all very interested in doing a ‘blue-way’, to be a part of the Highlands to Islands project,” Everett said.

“That’s our next push, working on the ‘blue-ways’”, he added.

Oakwood City Manager Stan Brown stood in the audience and said, “Government is not going to make this thing happen.  It’s going to take the leadership and the vision of citizens stepping forward.”

“The beauty of Vision 2030 is…that it is not a government achievement but it’s a community achievement,” Brown said.

“Government will be the driver to make it actually work…but it’s going to take a push from the public to make it happen.”

“We’ve got to seize those opportunities when a road project comes up and ask,’What about the trail?’”  By getting private sector involve, community involvement, I think we’ll see this thing happen,” Brown said.

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