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Large donation helps Gainesville to connect Highlands to Islands trail sections
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A jogger uses the Highlands to Islands trail Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021, in Gainesville. Construction could start this fall to connect trail near Georgia Department of Labor office to University of North Georgia's Gainesville campus. - photo by Scott Rogers

Gainesville will soon be able to fill in a missing piece of its Highlands to Island trail after receiving $785,000 from Pilgrim’s Pride, the largest ever corporate donation to the city. 

The Hall County and Gainesville trail system includes 10 miles of trails and will eventually span 54 miles from Gainesville to Braselton. The trail system, being funded largely by Hall’s special purpose local option sales tax, has been in development for years. The donation from Pilgrim’s will help connect the 2.2-mile downtown section of the trail to a 3.5-mile section that runs through the south of the city along Atlanta Highway.

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.Construction could start this fall to connect the Highlands to Islands trail near Georgia Department of Labor office to University of North Georgia's Gainesville campus.

The donation will help construct about a half-mile section called the Gainesville Connector, running from the bridge underpass at Hwy 60 and Industrial Boulevard to Aviation Boulevard. The trail section will be near Pilgrim’s facility at 920 Queen City Parkway.

City Manager Bryan Lackey said Pilgrim’s representatives approached the city about making a large donation a year ago, but he did not think it would be this big. He confirmed it is the largest donation the city has received. Pilgrim’s made the donation through its Hometown Strong initiative. 

It’s not Pilgrim’s first big donation. 

The poultry processing company donated $795,000 through this giving program last year toward food insecurity, community infrastructure and well-being and COVID-19 emergency response and relief efforts in the Gainesville area. 

“Through the Hometown Strong program, we are grateful for the opportunity to provide the missing link between some of our most widely traveled outdoor areas and ensure better access for everyone,” Tom Sanders, Pilgrim’s Gainesville complex manager, wrote in a statement. 

The Pilgrim’s Gainesville production facility employs more than 1,600 people with an annual payroll of more than $42 million.

Lackey said the city plans to start construction of the new trail section by the end of 2022.