For those not following the story, The Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) has permanently protected a 211-acre tract on the Pickens Gilmer line and encourages public use there.
This is no small gift to the people here. The tax assessment value on the property is more than $1.5 million. In reality, like all large tracts, it wouldn’t sell for that – which is why it ended up with a land trust. But as growth slowly moves north, having a large and easily accessible tract permanently protected is a huge benefit for this county.
At a public meeting in April with the land trust director and a mountain bike trail design professional, it was estimated that five miles of extraordinary trails plus parking, pavilions and other needs will cost around $250,000. The land trust and the North Georgia Mountain Bike Association jointly funded the $4,000 trail plan for the area.
During the meeting, corporate sponsors and grants were identified as possible funding sources. The county was not asked for anything other than generally being cooperative. Commission Chair Rob Jones agreed they would help out. He offered a supportive, but non-specific, comment that they would be glad to partner where feasible.
Hopefully a company will want a north Georgia park with their name or the grants will come through. If not, we believe the county should do whatever is necessary, including funding, to open these trails. We do not ask them to spend a potential quarter million of taxpayer dollars lightly. Here is our reasoning:
1. The park is the only thing on the drawing boards in years here that represents a bona fide new tourist destination. Located beside a big busy road that mainly sees people drive past us on the way to Ellijay and Blue Ridge, it’s obvious Pickens needs to offer more to attract tourist dollars.
2. Once built, the park will require very little upkeep, yet should generate sales taxes and boost local businesses for decades. The trail designer said they don’t give economic impact projections as the trails are just “a draw.” It is up to local businesses to make money off the people. Very true.
3. Several members of the Progress staff are occasional mountain bikers, who drive to counties both north and south to ride trails. Biking and hiking trips often involve a dinner or lunch, maybe a gas fill-up, and occasional quick stops at stores. We would be exaggerating if we said the impact of these trails would be monumental and immediate. It will be slow and steady but go on forever. Our staff will confirm that very large parking lots at existing trails in Cherokee County are always overflowing.
4. A mountain bike trail could be the first step down a tourism opportunity corridor. Maybe the mountain biking leads to Frisbee golf and that leads to additional ventures on other pieces of property. The county needs something to get the ball rolling, just as developers find anchor businesses for commercial areas.
One person at the April meeting asked about parking for future trail running events there, another group was pondering a dog park. Create a quality facility and it opens the door to new ideas before construction even starts.
5. Economics aside, the trails, which would be very nice for hiking/running as well as biking, meet recreational needs. It was noted by the trail advocates at a hearing that neither kids nor adults venture into the woods with any regularity anymore. New mountain bike trails are designed for fun, nothing too challenging, so young riders will enjoy themselves. Having the property developed allows school groups, churches, Scouts, youth groups, family groups, adult hikers, civic clubs, bikers, birders to all have a place to go.
6. While $250,000 is a sizeable chunk of taxpayer dollars, consider that the county has chronically under-funded recreation for decades. If we had the same mindset about county roads as we do our parks, there would still be mule barns here.
On the other hand: The only drawback we see to county funding/helping fund the park is the cost. But a county government spending $250,000 isn’t going to break the bank while it addresses a huge range of recreational and tourism development needs and it will eventually pay for itself.
IF NO OTHER OPTIONS ARE FOUND - We encourage the board of commissioners to do what is necessary to get the fat tire bikes rolling.