Oconee Veterans Park Facility Supervisor Pat Sebring spoke passionately last week during a Recreation Advisory Committee discussion on safe, multi-use trails.
“My husband is a bicyclist, and there’s no place to ride in this county safely,” she said, explaining that her spouse was injured in a bicycle accident last year. Other bicyclists, such as the late Karen Tinsley, have had fatal encounters with vehicles along the county’s rural roadways.
“I think we’re a community that wants it,” Sebring said of trails, mentioning OVP’s many morning walkers and cross-county bicyclists.
Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Davol pointed out that non-motorized, multi-use trail connectivity fits into the “quality of life” part of the county government’s 2021-2024 strategic goals.
“It’s good that they (the commissioners) see it as a valuable asset to the community,” Davol said. “We’re not there yet, but it is a goal.”
Future trail placement was one of the biggest areas of discussion at the meeting.
Sebring recognized that constructing straight paths on roads may be the most conventional line of thought but explained it may not always be feasible. She brought up her time living in Columbia, South Carolina, where trails were “everywhere, even under roads.”
“They never crossed a road,” she said of those trails.
Committee member Kimberly Thomas mentioned a much-desired Oconee “rails to trails” connection with the regional FireFly Trail. That project is partially constructed in Clarke County, and there are plans to continue it into Oglethorpe and Greene counties.
Four years ago, BOC Chairman John Daniell said that rails to trails would be “expensive to implement but that it has strong community support.”
Davol also alluded to a secondary discharge site for the Calls Creek water treatment plant off Rockinwood Road. As sewer capacity is expanded in the future, water will start being discharged at this new, 71-acre site along the Middle Oconee River.
This site is diagonally across the river from the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. “Less than half” of that property is supposed to be used for water discharge, and a lot of it could be used for a passive park, Daniell said in a recent phone interview.
A passive park trail would allow Oconee park goers to stroll or jog alongside the water and perhaps wave to people using the botanical garden’s White Trail on the other side of the river.
Both Daniell and Davol mentioned a possible boat ramp launch area that could connect to Georgia’s “blue way” water trails. The county plans to decommission the LAS water treatment site off Rocky Branch Road and turn it into an active park, Daniell added.
At a smaller level than the Firefly Trail, Davol added that an intra-county trail between Watkinsville and Bishop or Bishop and Farmington might be more feasible. Sebring agreed, saying that even a path from OVP to Butler’s Crossing or from OVP to North Oconee High School would be appreciated.
Additionally, Daniell has previously mentioned the county’s intent to put a bike path on the area of Hog Mountain Road between Butler’s Crossing and the U.S. 441 RaceTrac.
Over the past year, county officials have discussed the option of using a transportation special purpose local option sales tax to finance infrastructure projects, like road paving.
County Administrator Justin Kirouac said via email that trails can be considered for a TSPLOST referendum.
“The decision to hold a TSPLOST in November has not been decided yet, and as part of any decision, the project list and type of activity would also be vetted,” Kirouac said.
Sebring also described a strategy from her time in Memphis, Tennessee, where families moving into new subdivisions could each pay an amount to go into neighborhood “pocket parks” or for the trail system that would end up connecting to other subdivisions, schools and parks.
She said county officials “would be surprised about landowner responses” if they were presented with a sturdy plan.
Sebring elaborated that she and her colleagues in Tennessee convinced the local government there to increase collections from that two-part funding formula.
“I think if you show what you’re going to do with the money, people will be more willing,” she said.