Stephanie Doerr’s commitment to multi-use trails was obvious from the outset.
“For my bucket list, I’m determined to ride on every trail in every state,” Doerr told the gathering of the Oconee County Democratic Party.
Doerr was the listed guest speaker at the April meeting of the Democratic Party, and her topic was the Firefly Trail now being developed in Clarke, Oglethorpe and Green counties.
Doerr was joined by Ivette Bledsoe. Both are members of the Board of Directors of the Firefly Trail Inc., a Georgia non-profit incorporated to create a multi-use trail from Athens to Union Point.
Bledsoe also is a member of the Board of Directors for the Oconee County Cycling Organization, which has the mission of promoting improving bicycling infrastructure in Oconee County and has advocated for a trail along the little-used rail line running through the county.
One of the most visible activities of the Oconee Cycling Organization is its annual Tour-d’Oconee ride, which is being held starting at 8 a.m. this Saturday. Check-in is behind the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The Firefly trail is a multi-use trail from Athens to Union Point along the corridor of the historic Athens Branch of the Georgia Railroad.
Bledsoe and Doerr said that small sections of the trail are open in Athens, in Winterville, and in Union Point.
The trail will cross through Arnoldsville and Crawford in Oglethorpe County and Woodville in Greene County.
The major challenge for the trail, Bledsoe and Doerr said, is that much of land used by the railroad has reverted to the owners of adjoining properties, and many of those property owners do not want to give up the land for a public trail.
This is a warning for Oconee County, they said, as it contemplates the possible use of rail line running from Watkinsville to Madison, through Bishop and Farmington.
The line through Oconee County remains officially active, even though little of it is used.
According to a 2010 plan produced by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission for converting the line to a rails-to-trail, the track is part of a historic 105-mile line from Macon to Athens.
The final section of the railroad from Madison to Athens, referred to as the Athens Line, began operating in January of 1889. Near its end point, it passes by Sanford Stadium on the University of Georgia Campus.
The corridor remains part of the Norfolk Southern Short Line Railway network, according to that report.
According to the Rails-To-Trails Conservancy, a railroad company and a trail agency could enter into an agreement to use an out-of-service rail corridor as a trail until a railroad might need the corridor again for rail service.
The agreement is called railbanking and is an alternative to full abandonment of the line, under which the property is sold or reverts to adjacent land owners.
Bledsoe said a long-term goal is to link the Firefly Trail and a trail through Oconee County along the Athens Line to create a circular route.
Other Southern Trails
Doerr, an Oconee County contractor who operates as Make Mine Home, said she volunteered to be on the Board of the Firefly Trail because of her experience with trails elsewhere.
|Firefly Trail Map|
Doerr said she has been biking trails with her husband for 15 years, and her first experience riding trails was in Wisconsin.
“We go for a week or two weeks,” she said. “That’s really the way you get to see states. We’ve just seen so much it’s made us believers.”
“The thing about rails-to-trails,” Doerr said, “you can walk them, ride a bike, skate board, roller skate, take someone in a wheelchair, strollers. It’s for everybody.
“You don’t have to be in dynamite shape, but it’s a way to start getting in shape,” she said. “And to get outside, and do something other than jump in a car.”
In her presentation, Doerr showed a video featuring rails to trails conversions in South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia.
Oconee County Cycling Organization
Bledsoe said she had lived in Ft. Collins, Colo., where she got used to riding bikes throughout the city.
When she returned to Georgia, she decided to get involved with the local biking community, leading her to serve on the Firefly Trail Board and on the Board of Oconee County Cycling Organization.
She said Oconee County residents should begin communicating to members of the Board of Commissioners about the importance of the Athens Line rails-to-trails possibility.
Bledsoe encouraged those present to participate in Saturday’s Tour d’Oconee, which is the major fundraiser for the organization. Cost is $35, or $45 after tomorrow (May 6).
The tour is 62 miles in length, but 32 mile and 24 mile routes are available.
The video below is of the entire meeting of the Oconee County Democrats on April 18, 2019.
Twenty people attended the meeting, held in the basement auditorium of the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce in Watkinsville.
Doerr began her comments at 6:43 in the video.
Bledsoe began speaking at 27:14 in the video.