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Planned greenway part of a bigger picture for Gainesvilles image
First of its kind in the state with urban focus
Wesley and Suzanne Gailey enjoy an afternoon walk recently on one of the trails through Wilshire Trails Park in Gainesville. The trail eventually will connect to the midtown greenway. - photo by Tom Reed

Comparable greenways

Suwanee Greenway
What: Multiuse trail begins at Suwanee Creek Park, 1170 Buford Highway, and travels north along Suwanee Creek to connect to George Pierce Park trails north of Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road
Length: Four miles of paved trails
Features: Wetland trails, several parking areas, picnic tables

Alpharetta's Big Creek Greenway Park
What: Multiuse trails from Webb Bridge Road on the north end to Mansell Road on the south end and a 0.75-mile mulch trail encircling a wetland area between Haynes Bridge Road and Mansell Road
Length: Six miles of paved trails
Features: Multiple parking places, dog-walking areas, bathrooms, bird feeders

Gainesville's Midtown Greenway
What: Multiuse, one-mile trail that extends through midtown to Industrial Boulevard
Length: More than 6.5 miles when completed from Longwood Cove to Gainesville State College
Features: Proposed outdoor venue, benches and playground


After 10 years of planning and designing, Gainesville's greenway is close to fruition.

Though physical progress was stagnant during the winter months, visible changes will pop up again in late March as crews plant trees along the midtown trail. This summer, workers also will transform parts of the CSX railroad maintenance yard into a stage area.

By the end of 2011, city officials will complete the greenway with signs, benches, trash cans and marked street crossings for safety.

"I've been with the city now for 10 years, and we adopted the midtown redevelopment plan right after I started, so actually seeing this on the ground is really exciting," said Jessica Tullar, the city's special projects manager. "Final construction will start in May or June and be complete by the end of the year, so we expect a complete and usable trail 12-15 months from now if permitting comes through from the state."

Planning officials said they are most excited to work with public utilities crews to uncover a stream that will run along the walkway.

"Most people don't know it exists, and there's no reason they should because it's piped underground until it daylights at Banks Street. But even then it's so eroded and overgrown," said Rusty Ligon, the city's planning director. "I think it'll really open some people's eyes when they see the creek daylighting along the midtown greenway."

It's the first trail of its kind in the state to focus on an urban setting, stream restoration and using old railroad tracks in one project.

"We're unique as an urban trail," Ligon said. "Most of what you see in the state goes through natural and rural areas."

In fact, Ligon said it was a "tough sale" when city officials applied for the Georgia Recreational Trails grant, which is one of the first grants they received for the project.

"I think they were a little skeptical of what we were doing because they hadn't seen an urban greenway like this," he said. "Fortunately, we were able to convince them what all this was going to do as the centerpoint of our midtown redevelopment."

When city officials first created goals to build a new public safety building, pedestrian bridge and hotel complex to spark private investment in the area, the greenway anchored the planning stages.

"When the city was looking for a way to redevelop this side of the city, they hired a private consultant, which I worked for at that time and was the project manager," Ligon said. "One of the ideas was to add some functional green space that people can use in an area that was really lacking aesthetically."

The consultants considered several ideas, even looking to other trails in the state as models.

"The one that comes to mind is the one in Suwanee," Ligon said. "They were a few years ahead of us, and I can remember in some of our early discussions talking about how it was designed and how it functions."

Ligon's think tank proposed the idea of using the old rail line to create a walkway to offer green space and a park area. City officials and CSX management agreed on a sale price in 2006 and finally closed on the deal in 2009 after extensive environmental cleanup.

The Georgia Brownfield Program helped the city to remediate any negative environmental impacts and file for protection from future lawsuits.

"This is also the first of its kind for Georgia Brownfields, which is another reason why the process took a little bit longer than we all wanted because we were the first to send our Rails to Trails program through this," Tullar said.

"They were very deliberate in making sure we set a good standard. It's neat that the city has been on a cutting edge for that."

Despite the unique aspects, Tullar can understand why Gainesville residents are anxious about the next sign of completion.

"It is very difficult, I think, for folks who are not in our field to understand that you have to start with an idea and then expand it. ... There are various steps behind the scenes that are not glamorous," she said. "They're not visible, so people think this is a waste of time, it's never going to happen or it's a sidewalk to nowhere because we haven't had a chance to explain why this had to stop at Banks Street and skip over until the tributary is complete."

For the future, city officials have requested funding to improve Parker and Main streets to connect the Rock Creek trail to the north end of the greenway through downtown. They're also exploring options to connect the planned Central Hall County trail to the south end of the greenway near Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.

"Essentially, somebody could get on the trail at Longwood Cove and walk, bike, ride, skate, whatever from that point all the way down to Gainesville State College in the near future," Tullar said. "I say near future meaning the next 24-48 months. While piecemeal right now, everything will eventually connect and create a very extensive network."