This newspaper has long touted how unusual, remarkable and special this community is because of how its residents care a lot about a place where they love to live as well as caring for and about each other. Given that this is a hometown newspaper with now-rare hometown ownership that is to be expected, right?
When is the last time one heard about a government cutting something many consider an amenity rather than an essential need on the grounds it doesn’t have the money to do it and then have the following happen: In less than 10 days a group of local citizens reach into their own pockets, never uttering the words “taxes are too high,” and then march into the presence of that government’s leaders, slap down pledges to much of the $150,000 local share for the rejected project, and say: “This is too important to drop; you made a bad decision; here’s most of the money and we’ll get you the rest. Now do it!”
That is “man bites dog” stuff and given it happened here, in a known bastion of tea-party sentiment where government cutting and dumping anything is supposed to result in cheers, it is really something.
AND, IN the process confirms this newspaper’s opinion, and the belief of many of our readers and neighbors, about just how special and unique a place Greater Rome is. This sort of thing doesn’t happen just anywhere. In fact, it pretty much doesn’t happen anywhere else but here.
What was at stake was the county being on the verge of losing a $400,000 federal grant to build the Redmond Trail, a small but key piece of a grander, long-term Greater Rome trail concept that would ultimately tie in to trails in other counties, even states. The Floyd County Commission, due to inaction and not tossing any of its $150,000 local share into the pot, was about to lose a $550,000 infrastructure improvement that — just like a major highway — would thereafter exist and be of public use for all time.
What was needed on the county’s part was putting up $23,983.23 for an archaeological and environmental assessment (this trail piece involves Little Dry Creek), which encountered resistance from some county commissioners because it thus would obligate the county for the remainder of the $150,000 in the future. These being tight times — although the county tends not to mention it still has many millions of dollars in its “rainy-day fund” even after four years of monsoon season — the attitude is understandable. Giving up on key piece of a master plan, and thus likely the whole plan itself, is not.
A fledgling bike/pedestrian advocacy group without even a name yet learned what was going on and collected pledges for $62,500, marched 40 supporters into the next commission meeting, and informed the board they’d already been promised more. Said Mark Webb, their spokesman: “Private donors, foundations and some heavy-hitting businesses have said they’ll do whatever it takes to get the project done.”
THUS ASSURED the $23,983 would be all the tax money they would have to spend to get $550,000 of local improvements accomplished, the commission voted, 4-1, to proceed rather than abandon the Redmond Trail. Greater Romans have a long, long record of doing whatever it takes to accomplish and support things good for the entire community although this usually appears regarding social assistance efforts, feeding the poor, free medical clinics and on and on and on. Stepping in to guarantee what otherwise would have been, should have been the obligation of the public purse is really “taking it to another level.”
It’s all the more remarkable in that the new group, while plainly having hiking/biking interests, was being formed for a different reason entirely: to promote, push and accomplish a Rome link to the Silver Comet Trail in Polk County. The Redmond/Little Dry Creek segment runs in an entirely different direction, northward, and is aimed at ultimately tying into completed portions of the Pinhoti Trail that in turn links to the Appalachian Trail. The longest undone piece of the Pinhoti, which runs into South Alabama, is the Rome to Cave Spring stretch along an abandoned railroad bed.
Yet, all this is part of the same grand plan that has been kicking around in Floyd County for about 15 years, is many more years and many more dollars away from completion yet has quietly been appearing one small piece at a time.
THAT BIG dream, regarding which so much has already been done, and whose finished segments have gained attention and “traffic,” is well worth pursuing. And publicizing. And finding funds to accelerate, whether by donation or taxpayer support as insisted upon in a future SPLOST. Indeed, the trail network along with the proposed Tennis Center of Georgia would be reason enough for a new referendum proposal of the sort the same County Commission currently frowns upon. The best things a community can do for itself is make improvements that last pretty much forever, enhance lifestyle and also just happen to boost economic activity and hometown visibility.
It is to be hoped that the fledgling group, which plainly is gung-ho and effective, helps reawaken Greater Rome to a dream that now itself slumbers … and of which even some members of the County Commission must be reminded. It is very extensive and involves more than just the walk/hike/bike trails now increasingly familiar. Within the county it seeks horse and four-wheeler trails and long stretches accessible to motorized wheelchairs.
More broadly, passing through the county and running in all four directions of the compass, it is aimed, as this newspaper once described it, at making Rome into a sort of “Grand Central Station” crossroads of trails.
“One could then stand in downtown Rome and ask one’s self: Should I take a couple of healthy days off to walk to Atlanta, or a few weeks to trek to the Gulf of Mexico, or a few months to go up to Canada? And do the whole vacation/journey without ever encountering a traffic light or a car.
“Not only that but endurance hikers/bikers who go hundreds or even thousands of miles at a time would see Rome as the major intersection, the place where one can pick what direction to strike off in.”
THAT’S WHAT some local government leaders, worried more about yesterday’s tax receipts than tomorrow’s vision, might have inadvertently killed off had not wiser citizens intervened.
That dreamers who are also doers have become a fixture of this community, and able to spring into action this rapidly, says much that is positive about Greater Rome. To have the same element not only willing to criticize the decisions of elected officials but also to “put their money where their mouths are” is exceptional.
Many Americans spend their lives wondering if there is a place they could move to where a sense of community remains and good people don’t let bad things happen.
Either Greater Rome is already such a place or, as this remarkable trail reaction displays, it has walked a far piece on the path that leads there.