The state awarded a $400,000 grant to build the bicycle and pedestrian path from downtown Rome to Tolbert Park, but a majority of the board was balking at the estimated $150,000 local match.
Mark Webb, spokesman for a crowd of about 40 supporters, told the board they collected pledges for $62,500 during the past week and have promises of more. The city of Rome also has said it would kick in $37,500. “Private donors, foundations and some heavy-hitting businesses have said they’ll do whatever it takes to get the project done,” Webb said.
The county was in danger of losing the grant, awarded in 2008, if it didn’t show “significant progress” by the end of the month.
After assurances that they wouldn’t be called on to spend more, commissioners voted 4-1 to pay for a $23,983.23 archaeological and environmental assessment that would keep the grant alive.
Commissioner Rhonda Wallace thanked the supporters for their commitment to the community.
“The willingness to raise that amount of money in seven days, I’m so impressed,” she said.
Commission Chairman Irwin Bagwell and Commissioner Garry Fricks were initially skeptical, but were won over with a promise the group would put the funds in a separate county account that could be tracked. They joined Wallace and Commissioner John Mayes to back the project.
Commissioner Larry Maxey was the hold-out, saying the county has higher priorities for its limited funds.
“We can’t afford to take a chance it might run over the $23,000,” he said.
The movement to save the grant started Oct. 15, at a hastily called meeting in the Cycle Therapy bike shop in downtown Rome. Owner Trey Smith said it was the first outing of a month-old bicycle and pedestrian advocacy group.
“This highlighted why we need one; to keep an eye on projects like this,” he said. “We almost lost the grant because (commissioners) didn’t ask for our help.”
The main goal of the group — still unnamed — is to get Rome’s trail system connected to the Silver Comet Trail in Polk County.
While the Redmond Trail runs in the other direction, toward the Pinhoti Trail, Smith said it’s the first leg of a link between Rome and Chattanooga, Tenn.