“That’s my thing with trails,” said Trey Smith of Cycle Therapy in Rome. “It’s not a feel-good project. They have true, trackable economic payback.”
The Northwest Georgia Regional Commission is accepting proposals through Nov. 30 from consultants to study the communities touched by the Silver Comet Trail in Cobb, Paulding and Polk counties.
The Silver Comet links with the 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama, but NWGRC principal planner David Kenemer said only the Georgia counties are part of the state-funded initiative.
“We’ll get an initial count of users first — walkers, runners, bikers, roller-bladers, horse-riders,” he said. “Who are these people, where are they coming from, what do they buy when they’re here? We know there’s everyone from minimum wage workers using it to get from one place to another to Europeans who travel around the world on trails.”
A secondary aspect of the study will look at missing pieces such as a shortage of restrooms, restaurants or lodging.
Kenemer said possible spurs or connections also will be considered, and Floyd County is a logical target-area.
“One of our goals has always been to find a way to get a similar-type trail that would go all the way from Chattanooga to Atlanta, through our region,” he said. “This could be a step along the way.”
Kenemer said that the NWGRC hopes to award a contract before the end of the year, and he expects the report to be done in June or July. There will be a technical document, he said, plus a booklet with maps, graphs, photos and figures.
“It will be a marketing tool for Silver Comet communities, and an example to show other elected officials — this is what happens when you build one of these things,” Kenemer said.
Smith said the Floyd County Commission missed the boat when it failed to pursue a 12.5-mile abandoned Norfolk Southern railbed that could have been converted to a trail. The track essentially runs from the Floyd County Health Department, through Vanns Valley and Cave Spring into Polk County.
“At that point, you’re five or six miles from the Silver Comet Trail,” Smith said. “And, now that the Kingfisher Trail goes to the health department, downtown Rome would have been connected.”
Protests from the Floyd County Farm Bureau and landowners in the rural area — County Commission Chairman Irwin Bagwell included — stymied the railbanking process in 2009.
Since then, the new southwestern leg of the Rome bypass has bisected the track, making it ineligible as a railbank donation under the National Trails System Act.
A concrete tunnel built under the bypass ramp near Georgia Highlands College, however, maintains the integrity of the path.
Smith said he tried to get a price on the railbed, in hopes the Silver Comet Trail’s PATH Foundation would help back the purchase, but Norfolk Southern officials told him it’s not for sale.
“I think there’s a gentleman’s agreement somewhere that’s got this stalled out,” he said.
Rome-Floyd County Planning Director Sue Hiller said the county’s trails plan was last updated in 2008. It still contains the potential use of the railbed as a “Vanns Valley Trail,” but Hiller said that “will probably come out” the next time the plan is updated.
The most viable alternative for a connection through southern Floyd to Polk County at this point, she said, is likely a bicycle lane along Rockmart Highway when it’s realigned and widened.
“That’s scheduled for 2023,” Hiller noted.
Smith said more people are riding bikes these days, as transportation as well as for recreation, and the safest paths are the ones that are off-road.
“The bikers are the ... voice, I guess ... for the trail systems, but they’re not the primary users,” he said. “Go to Riverside Parkway, Ridge Ferry Park and you’ll see walkers, joggers, people in wheelchairs, families with kids.”