Thanks, again, to all of you who came to our first of many quarterly Newton Trails socials. To the 40-50 of you who showed up at Burrito Loco Tuesday night, thank you for making this such a success.We had several objectives in creating this program. For one, we wanted
to get to know our virtual community of friends and supporters -- and to have a chance for you to get to know us. We also wanted you to meet each other. And, we wanted a chance to show trail friendly businesses in Newton County that trails are a positive economic impact to our community. Mission accomplished on all fronts!I was excited to share a recap of recent accomplishments, like the Eastside Trail, of course, but also the momentum building in Porterdale around the Yellow River Park and the completion of our new strategic plan. As I said Tuesday night, the near term future is as promising as the signs of spring bursting from the ground around us this time of year. The Eastside Trail is only the beginning of what's to come!I also reviewed the priorities the Newton Trails board has set for 2013, which are:
To move forward with these, we need your active support and involvement as volunteers (your time), contributors (your money), and advocates (your voice).
- Sustaining our existing trails, by maintaining them and promoting usage;
- Moving forward in Porterdale with the Yellow River Park trails;
- Identifying high-value expansion opportunities for the Eastside Trail
- Building solid plans and foundations for the future.
To learn more about how you can contribute and volunteer, please visit the Join Us page
on our website. To become and informed advocate, please continue to monitor the research we post regularly to our website on the Benefits page
.Tuesday night, I also introduced Florian Pohl, who will be succeeding me as Chairman. While remaining on the board, I will be stepping down as Chairman effective April 1, 2013. As everyone saw Tuesday night, Florian is poised and ready to lead Newton Trails to even greater days ahead, with the full support of all our board members and our supporters.Florian reviewed our new committee structure and talked about the places we most need your help.
You can sign up for a committee role on the Join Us page.
As good as it felt cutting the ribbon in December to open the Chimney Park section of the new Eastside Trail in Covington, the far better experience is reading and hearing the great things people have to say after their first visit. You aren't just telling us it's "nice," you're telling us you "love it!" And, that's very gratifying. Even more important, you're using it.Touch and Go, then Finally GO!Most of you know the trail was a long time in the making. From
when the first federal grants were sought in 2005 and matching funds were included in the 2006 SPLOST, the project has overcome many obstacles. Even as late as last May, the trail's future was in doubt, as construction bids exceeding available funding had some county officials arguing to pave the trail in asphalt or even gravel to avoid the additional cost.Thankfully, a majority of the Newton County Board of Commissioners and the Covington City Council voted to finish the trail in concrete as designed. And, today, the results speak for themselves.Some local leaders had the courage to see this through. And, hopefully, the skeptics will see, with time, that the right decision was made. You can help with that process in several ways.The Next Step Is YoursFirst and foremost, visit the trail. Bring your friends. Critics of this project -- and of trails general -- contend walking and biking trails are wasteful spending that benefits only a few residents. Your numbers are the answer. Be there; be seen.Become even more visible by just giving thanks to the city council and board of commissioners for making the trail possible. Let them know how much you appreciate the Eastside Trail. The best way to continue growing the network of greenway trails in Newton County is to use and appreciate what we have now. Use the links below to take action today.Act Now
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.
This Tuesday, May 15, the Newton County Board of Commissioners
will vote on construction bids for the trail from the Newton County Public Library/Chimney Park to Eastside High School. After tabling the matter twice, the board is out of time to select a contractor before bids expire. If you care about the type of trail that's built, contact your commissioner
before Tuesday night.The trail design has always been a 10-foot-wide concrete surface. However, due to concerns over available funding, the county requested bids for both concrete and asphalt. Every bid received was above the current project budget. The lowest asphalt bid was roughly $9,000 more, while the lowest concrete bid was $120,000 more. The City of Covington prefers concrete, because of the lower maintenance costs and longer useful life. And, the City Council voted already to pay half of the additional construction cost, meaning Newton County only needs to come up with $60,000.The board of Newton Trails believes concrete is the better choice and best investment, for multiple reasons. And, because the Commissioners already voted in December 2010 to authorize another $100,000 to complete the trail, we believe they need to carry forward now with that commitment and build the original, full design. On April 25, w
e wrote the commissioners a letter, which you can read here
.Please read our letter and -- if you agree -- contact your commissioner on Monday or Tuesday. Let them know the trail is important to you and urge them to build with concrete as originally planned.
There are so many ways to enjoy a trail besides by bike. A brisk walk, a jog, a casual stroll with a good friend, quiet meditation on a bench, rollerblading, birdwatching, or walking the dog all come to mind.But, May is National Bike Month
. And, this year, it's also Bike Month in the City of Covington. So, today, the focus is on biking. Whether you're still an active cyclist today, or you gave your bike up not long after training wheels, we all have a story somewhere about riding a bicycle. I shared mine in my weekly column
in today's Covington News
. (If you can't access, the text of my column is here
.)Join us today, on the Covington Square, at 3 pm, to celebrate as Mayor Ronnie Johnston
proclaims May 2012 Bike Month in the City of Covington. Then, roll away with us for the perfect "Sunday drive" on two wheels under your own power. Smiles are guaranteed.,
I hope many of you were able to watch episode 1 of the PBS Series Designing Healthy Communities
, which aired last night at 7 pm on WGTV in Atlanta. Entitled Retrofitting Suburbia
, this first installment of the four-part series was fantastic -- a compelling call to action for those who see the clear and frightening ways in which our built environment is making millions of Americans sick. Apparently, I was not the only one who thought so, based on the calls, texts, emails, and Facebook posts coming in during and after the show.In his comments and the stories he shared, Dr. Richard Jackson confronted head on the public health factors we believe a trail system can help combat.
When someone with his credentials tells us what doctors are seeing and where current trends are leading, I really hope public officials are taking note.If you watched, I'd love to see your comments and reflections about the program. What does it all mean for us here in Newton County? If you didn't watch, here's a short snippet of what you missed.
Also, I was so impressed with the program I purchased the entire DVD set. So, watch for announcements of future screening events where we can gather to watch and discuss what it all means for Newton County.
On Monday, Atlanta Business Chronicle columnist Maria Saporta published a great blog post titled "More cycling, walking and green space will make Atlanta a more competitive and livable city."
In that article, Saporta shared comments from national experts visiting Atlanta last week for two separate events: Park Pride and the Cities for Cycling Road Show. Across both events, and in presentations by many speakers, the common message was clear: walking, biking, and public green space are vital to our region's long term growth and prosperity.In another Monday report, Saporta recapped a talk by developer and Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Chris Leinberger. Saying "Hot-lanta is No Longer Hot," Leinberger delivered a pointed wake up call to Rotary Club of Atlanta members
. In a talk heavy on examples of how other cities are outpacing our region in every key economic indicator, he criticized Atlanta for investing in "yesterday's economy and not tomorrow's." In particular, he stressed the importance of transit and creating "walkable urban spaces rather than drivable suburban spaces."
“That’s why Atlanta has flat-lined,” Leinberger said. "It only has five walkable urban neighborhoods while Washington, D.C. has more than 40."These experts were speaking of the metro Atlanta region, which reaches well into the western fringes of Newton County. But, the sounding alarms should be heeded by leadership across all of Newton County.
Like the state and the metro region, we must stop building yesterday's economy and lay the groundwork for the economy of tomorrow. Ironically, while our county has fallen far behind in yesterday's framework, we have certain advantages if we embrace the coming model. Leinberger alluded to one such advantage when describing the "experience economy" built on tourism, which he called "the biggest industry on the planet." Newton County has an edge there, but now is when we must exploit it. And, as we have said many times, greenway trails are great tourism attractions with proven economic impact.Thankfully, some Newton County leaders are recognizing the urgent need for better walking and biking facilities in area. To that end, the cities of Covington, Oxford
, and Porterdale (C-O-P) have launched a project with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission (NEGRC) and Newton Trails to examine current facilities and identify priorities for improving walking and biking. Mayors Ronnie Johnston, Jerry Roseberry, and Arline Chapman are all actively engaged, along with County Commission Chair Kathy Morgan. This is a huge step forward in recognizing what the Regional Walking and Biking Plan
already shows -- that C-O-P is a critical focus area for the region.You can make a difference by responding to a questionnaire the city's are conducting through NEGRC.
A paper version of the survey is being mailed in this month's utility bills, but you can take the survey now online
. We have leaders willing to chart a new course; show them you have their backs by taking the survey and making it clear the people of Newton County are ready to embrace the future.We can do this!
At an evening reception on Monday, February 27
, Newton Trails was presented a check for $4,059 from the Newton Fund of the Community Foundation of Greater Atlanta. Joining us at the podium were representatives of fellow grant recipients: Project ReNeWal Domestic Violence Intervention Program, The Salvation Army, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul - St. Augustine Conference, and Washington Street Community Center. It is humbling to be recognized alongside these incredible organizations that do so much for Newton County.As I said in my remarks to the attendees, "
I don't need to tell you this, but I need for you to know we know it. These are difficult times, and ours is very much a community in need. With so many struggling to keep shelter over head and food on the table, it’s easy to view trails, green space, and recreation as niceties and not necessities. We don’t see it that way, but we know it took foresight for the advisory committee to recognize the importance of what we do. Thank you for sharing our vision."I went on to talk about growing evidence that our
built environment is forcing people into cars and away from simple, effective physical activities like walking and biking that can help combat the growing incidence of child and adult obesity and related illnesses. I explained why we believe there is a health crisis in our community (and all across America) and why we believe trails are a vital element for addressing that crisis.The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has an entire program called Healthy Places and a number of resources, including the Healthy Communities Design Checklist. Not surprisingly, sidewalks, bike lanes, parks, trails, and green space are all key elements highlighted for their positive impact on community health.Another useful resource is the Designing Healthy Communities series produced by Dr. Richard Jackson, MD and broadcast by the Public Broadcast System (PBS).
Here's a preview clip of episode 1, Retrofitting Suburbia
When you look at Newton Trails and our four fellow non-profits receiving support this year from the Newton Fund, we each seek to solve different problems. The Salvation Army and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul are reaching out in a personal way with a helping hand to put food on the tables, clothes on the backs, and roofs over the heads of families in need in our community. Project ReNeWal provides safe haven and counseling in an effort to break the terrible cycle of domestic abuse. Washington Street Community Center gives young people, parents, and grandparents tools and skills to find a path to a better life through education and mentoring in life skills.
We're all threads -- along with many other non-profits in Newton County -- weaving the fabric of a stronger community. It takes all of us. We encourage you to support everyone trying to make this a better community. We are grateful for the gifts of time, money, and encouragement you give to Newton Trails, and we hope you feel good knowing you are making a difference.
For two decades, walking and biking have been making a comeback in America. Faced with runaway fuel prices and soaring health costs driven by obesity-related illnesses and the perils of a sedentary lifestyle, Americans are rediscovering the health and economic benefits of active transportation. Sadly, our current US Congress seems hell-bent on reversing those positive trends in one fell swoop of legislative folly. And, time is running short for you and I to change that.This week, the US House and Senate will debate and likely vote on legislation to
reauthorize the transportation law that expired almost 2-1/2 years ago. And, sadly, both the Senate version (MAP-21) and the House version (HR7) have stripped bare all funding for pedestrian and bicycle programs. Gone are the Transportation Enhancements (TE) program used to build sidewalks, bike lanes, and shared use paths across America, as well as the Safe Routes to School program that has successfully reintroduced school-aged children in communities across our land to the simple act of walking or riding a bike to school -- something most of us took for granted growing up. In the House, even a bi-partisan, Republican-sponsored amendment to restore these programs was voted down in the Transportation Committee. Only a NO vote to HR7on the House floor can save the day now.At a time of economic turbulence and runaway federal deficits, it may feel especially awkward to stand and demand money for bike/ped projects. But, we are not asking to spend more. We ask only that what we do spend on transportation in America be allocated fairly to all modes and not dedicated solely to the automobile. Existing law is already far less than fair, as evidenced by the 2012 Benchmarking Report from the Alliance for Walking and Biking. While walking and biking account for 12% of the trips made in America, only 1.6% of our transportation dollars are spent for bicycle or pedestrian facilities. Worse yet, 14% of the fatalities in vehicle crashes on our roadways are deaths to
pedestrians and cyclists. In the past four years alone, some 20,000 pedestrians and 2,800 cyclists nationwide died for the simple act of walking or biking -- by choice or necessity -- on our roadways.
In a situation crying out for doing more to ensure the safety of our most vulnerable transportation system users, Congress is poised to make the overnight switch to doing nothing at all. It's staggering.We need to speak up now. There is not time to wait. If you need more information to understand why these proposed bills are so bad, please read these:
We're at a fork in the road. One path leads forward to a more balanced, healthier, happier tomorrow where safe walking and biking are a reality and Americans have an alternative to traffic congestion, dirty air, and the insecurity of dependence on foreign oil. The other path -- the one Congress is on -- takes us back 30 years or more to a continued reliance on the failed, narrow-minded notion that we can bulldoze and pave our way to the future. While there is still time, you decide.
For an easy method to write both Georgia Senators and your Representative, click here
. It's very important that you also follow up Monday morning with phone calls:Senator Saxby Chambliss: 202-224-3521Senator Johnny Isakson: 202-224-3643Representative Austin Scott: 202-225-4272Representative Rob Woodall: 202-225-6531We who hesitate are lost. Act now.
We should not need an escorted community bike ride each month to make people feel safe about walking or biking through downtown Covington.