35-mile trail stretch could be key to Coastal Georgia Greenway
future path Georgia section will cover 155 miles from Savannah to St. Marys, including bike trails.
January 31, 2011
BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Jo Claire Hickson hopes Glynn and McIntosh counties can help pave a narrow path for future progress along a route that she and others say could boost the future of the Georgia coast.
Hickson is the executive director of Coastal Georgia Greenway, Georgia's section of the East Coast Greenway, which has been described as an Appalachian Trail for bicycles that would extend 450 miles from Maine to Florida.
The Georgia section covers about 155 miles from Savannah to St. Marys, but Hickson sees a 35-mile stretch of biking-hiking trails that would be constructed from Jekyll Island to Georgia 99 north of Darien as a key component of the overall project conceived in 1992.
"That could be the first real taste of what the greenway could become," said Hickson. "If this is built, it could really launch the whole effort."
While none of the trail is built from Glynn to McIntosh, the earliest pieces of the so called "Island Hopper Trail" could start falling into place this year.
Hickson has been meeting with representatives of the Coastal Regional Commission from Glynn, McIntosh and four other coastal counties. Officials from Brunswick, Darien and the Jekyll Island Authority also sit on the panel.
In the coming months, the commission will also update its plans for the Altamaha Scenic Byway that stretches from the Sapelo Island Visitors Center in McIntosh County to Needwood Baptist Church in northern Glynn County.
It plans to submit an application to the Georgia Department of Transportation to recognize Glynn County as a new destination site with the proposed Glynn Scenic Byway along U.S. 17 from Needwood Baptist to Jekyll Island.
In theory, when the trailway is linked, it would connect Sapelo, Jekyll and St. Simons islands - thus the "Island Hopper Trail" - and would tie into bike paths on Jekyll and St. Simons.
"The reason we are doing this is to eventually be able to apply for national scenic byway destination. But something has to be a state byway before it can be a national byway," Hickson said.
A national scenic byway designation would come with the ability to apply for funding to enhance the eco-tourism and heritage tourism in the area and make that segment of the coast a nationally significant destination, she said.
The Jekyll Island Authority has applied for a $1 million state transportation enhancement grant to build a bike trail on the 6-mile causeway to the island. By sponsoring the proposed project, the authority has agreed to provide the $250,000 in initial funds that would bring the total spending for the planned trail to $1.25 million if the state awards the grant.
Brunswick got a grant to build a 1.1-mile pathway along U.S. 17 from its Howard Coffin Park to the F.J. Torras Causeway to St. Simons.
That project could be completed by early next year, said Bill Weeks, assistant city manager in Brunswick.
Weeks said the city also is seeking grants to help fund a 2.2-mile trail from Howard Coffin to the foot of the Sidney Lanier Bridge, where the city is building a park.
"We've already done the conceptual planning for that, and we're in the process of applying for grants for the engineering and construction costs," he said.
Frank Feild, community development director for Darien, said McIntosh County has already received two grants to build a pair of 1-mile sections of paths from the city limits to the north.
"Those are in the process of being designed and built," Feild said.
At its Jan. 20 meeting, the Glynn County Commission voted to draft a letter of support for the Coastal Greenway to apply for a $55,000 grant to build a portion of the trail in the county.
"We have supported project requests in the past," said David Hainley, community development director for Glynn County. "We're not financially able to assist in the construction of the project, but we do endorse the project.
"It has the possibility of adding [an] eco-tourism aspect to the existing tourism base that is already here."
With heavy vehicle traffic on U.S. 17 and other byways, Hickson stressed that greenway trails provide a safer alternative to those who enjoy scenic bike rides and walks as healthy recreational pursuits.
"People already planning trips to the area may stay longer," Hickson said. "It would be a new destination activity."
Hickson hopes to plan a ride for community leaders.
"This would let them experience what this is all about," she said. "It's been a slow process. You have to build awareness for something like this. People just don't understand what the experience can be like."