Last week, I had the good fortune to stay two nights in Alcoa, TN, at a hotel by the Alcoa Greenway, which connects to the Maryville Greenway as part of the Blount County Greenway system just south of Knoxville.
Though I had never been to the area before, I have read, written, and spoken about this particular trail system many times. The Rails to Trails Conservancy featured the Maryville project in a publication highlighting economic impacts of greenway trails.
Ruby Tuesday's Inc relocated a Restaurant Supply Center employing over 300 people to a site along the trail because of the attraction of the trail and associated parks to the company's management and employees.
The greenways were everything I could have hoped for -- and more. In fact, as my wife and I rode the section connecting Alcoa to Maryville one morning, I was struck by how much these trails are the perfect expression of the new vision statement
we recently developed for Newton Trails. Nearly every aspect of what we aspire to in a Newton County trail system was abundantly evident in the experience of biking the Alcoa/Maryville Greenway.
We envision a healthy, vibrant, prosperous community...
The greenway was alive. Even on a workday morning, we passed people walking, jogging, and biking. An elderly man carried dumbbells as he moved briskly through the park. Others sat alone or in pairs on benches in the woodland sections, enjoying a quiet moment of reflection on the banks of once-polluted Pistol Creek.
Prosperity was evident in the many businesses (including Ruby Tuesday's) ringing the Bicentennial Greenbelt in Maryville and other employers along the trail to Alcoa. The two cities have a history
of luring major employers from other locales, and the greenway system has played a prominent role.
...connected to one another, to nature, to our history, and to daily life...
In joining two cities -- Maryville and Alcoa -- this greenway is the essence of connectivity. Especially with so many large employers, shopping centers, and even city hall lining the corridor, the linkages are everywhere. The trails were a wonderful alternative to busy state roads nearby. And, yet, with factories, offices, and highways all around, the trail system puts the "green" in greenway -- featuring woodlands, meadows, streams, ponds, interpretive displays, and wildflower gardens.
History and heritage are also vital to the Maryville/Alcoa Greenway experience. Nowhere is this more visible than Bicentennial Greenbelt Park, featuring a massive granite timeline etched with prominent events in Maryville's then 200-year history -- as well as the the world, and mankind. It's the kind of place you could linger for hours just lost in time. And, a great example of why we believe greenway trails preserve not just greenspace and public health, but also the history of an area and its people.
Last Saturday, Newton Trails board members and a few invited guests gathered for a half-day planning retreat to refocus on the vision, mission, and critical goals and objectives of the organization. You may wonder how much a group can accomplish in four and a half hours, but with preparation and a good facilitator, we covered much more ground than you might imagine.
Among the valuable outcomes of that intense effort are a new vision and mission statement. Granted, these are only words, but personally, I found the shift in focus to be quite profound. Let me put it out there first, and then I'll tell you why.
We envision a healthy, vibrant, prosperous community connected to one another, to nature, to our history, and to daily life through a system of greenway trails.
To promote, develop, and sustain a connected system of trails that supports a vibrant, healthy, and prosperous community.
The first difference I hope you'll recognize is the focus on outcomes: health, vibrancy, prosperity, and connectedness. These are the things that matter. Even I have to confess staring at a 10 to 12-foot wide ribbon of inanimate concrete leaves me wondering "what's the big deal?" It's the lives being lived there that matter. We don't just pave dirt, we bring places to life and people together.
The second key difference is that we've taken ourselves out of the trap of carefully fencing off organizational roles and responsibilities. When pursuing outcomes, we do whatever we have to do and can do to realize them. If a local government is willing and able to maintain a particular trail, then we support them in that effort. If no one else will maintain it, then our mission says we need to find a way. We act, though, not out of a scripted set of responses, but from a passionate caring about the end results.
To promote a system of trails goes beyond advocacy; it means selling the community on the benefits before construction, but also putting emphasis on making sure people are aware of, using, and benefiting from trails once they are built.
To develop, of course means to plan, design, and construct. To sustain encompasses the maintenance required to keep a trail in great shape, but it also goes further to make sure the trails are visible, accessible, well-used, and appreciated.
We're working on the goals, objectives, and strategies to accelerate the rate at which we realize this vision for Newton County. Key among those strategies will be getting you -- our supporters -- more engaged and actively helping. So, it's very important this new vision statement speaks to you.
Let us know what you think.
I hate when I get too busy to blog. I miss it. Still not much time today, but I wanted to share some thoughts from last week's meeting of trail builders in the Northeast Georgia Region and our tour of the North Oconee River Greenway
Sharing an afternoon with public officials and private citizens involved in building greenway trails around the region, it was invigorating to hear so much passion and commitment to the cause. It was also encouraging to hear the success stories from the Athens greenway system and the Sandy Creek Nature Center. Ours is a region with so much untapped outdoor recreation potential just waiting to be harnessed for the health and economic well being of the region's 12 counties, 54 cities, and more than 635,000 people. And, all of that natural beauty was in full display along the greenway.
The North Oconee River Greenway incorporates Athens-Clarke County's Heritage Trail
-- a series of over fifty interpretive panels along the trail describing historical features such as the former Cook and Brother Armory, Chicopee Mill, Dudley Park, and the railroad. I can so readily imagine similar panels along a rail trail in Newton County, commemorating our agricultural heritage, civil war history, and the glory days of communities like Starrsville, Hayston, and Brick Store that once dotted the landscape. It's a vision we need to continue to share every chance we get.
Visit our Facebook page to see more photos
of the Sandy Creek Nature Center, the North Oconee River Greenway, and the Heritage Trail.
There's a familiar saying: "Those who say it can't be done should get out of the way of those who are doing it." I'm taking it a step further. Forget those who say it can't be done, find those who are doing it, and help make it happen! Where there's no will, there's no way. And, greenway trails are built with willpower.
Local news has been dominated for months by repeated refusals from the Covington City Council and Newton County Board of Commissioners to consider acquiring the Central of Georgia Railroad corridor -- for trail use or any other purpose. We'll take that up another day, for there are many pages left unturned in that book. But, today, I want to highlight a story receiving far less coverage: the recent Transportation Enhancements (TE) grant awarded to the City of Porterdale by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). That $250 thousand grant, backed by local SPLOST collections and private contributions, will fund a project to convert the Historic Railroad Depot into a trail head and community events facility and also construct a concrete trail connecting the Depot to Broad St and the existing loop trail by the Yellow River.
I met Thursday morning with Porterdale Mayor Bobby Hamby, City Manager Bob Thompson, and the city's contracted engineer Marty Boyd. We reviewed drawings and the project budget. By itself, restoring the Depot and creating a short connecting trail is a great first step. But, even more impressive are the city's visionary plans for a comprehensive Riverside Park in the area along the river across Broad St north of the Lofts. When you factor in the county's Turkey Creek/Yellow River Trail project that would connect Porterdale to Newton High School and Turner Lake Park in Covington, your imagination runs wild. Leveraging the greenway trail system with a water trail for canoists, kayakers, and boaters on the Yellow River, you quickly see the tourism and economic development impacts that will transform Porterdale.
Porterdale is a city with big dreams taking small steps. And at a time when larger communities seem paralyzed by a lack of unified vision, small steps are cause for big celebration! These are the people who created a community garden, a farmers market, and a public library from sheer will, personal determination, and a refusal to be limited by things as they are. These are the people who will someday restore their beloved landmark gymnasium lost to fire. And, these are the people who will create a Riverside Park that is the envy of all Newton County and beyond.
At Newton Trails, we support and admire the people of Porterdale. In the weeks ahead, I will work with our board and the City of Porterdale to determine how best to partner and assist them in their cause. And, I know we can count on you, our supporters, to join us in that effort.
In this video, a group of adults said it couldn't be done. But the will of a young boy, personally committed to creating a different reality, inspired a different outcome. We've found that will in Porterdale, now let's find the way!
We use the term "greenway" or "greenway trail" often on this site, but perhaps not everyone knows what a greenway is. Webster's defines greenway as " a corridor of undeveloped land preserved for recreational use or environmental protection." It also says first known use of the term was 1966, which surprised me. The concept has been around longer than I thought. And, yet, some still seem to have trouble catching on.
I've deliberately kept trails alive in the discussion around plans for the Norfolk Southern Railroad corridor because I am afraid politicians will look for any excuse to avoid criticism and try to skirt the trail discussion. But, truth be told, the potential for that corridor is so much broader than a trail. A greenway encompasses many uses that transcend trail-based activities like walking, biking, or jogging.
Many folks assume the rail corridor is what they see with their eyes: the roughly eight feet taken up by the ties and rails. But, check the survey maps for the railroad, and you find the corridor is actually 25, 50, or 100 feet wide in all but a few places. And, being already densely lined in most places with trees and plants, the corridor is a ready-made greenway.
There are as many greenspace uses for the corridor as your mind can imagine. For me, community gardens, picnic areas, playgrounds, dog parks, micro parks, water gardens, and fitness trails come to mind. A greenway can and should encompass all of those ideas and more. And, aside for the ways in which the greenway can be used, there is an additional benefit realized by every citizen of Newton County -- whether they venture into the greenway or not. By preserving the trees and plants along the linear parkway, we maintain an oasis of greenery to cool and cleanse our air. And, we can all use more of that.