Thursday, January 26, 2023

Oconee Commissioners To Seek Citizen Comment On Preliminary Multi-Use Trails Master Plan

***Date For Input Still To Be Set***

Oconee County citizens will get a chance in the coming months to comment on preliminary plans for a multi-use trail system for the county that could be funded in part with money from the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by voters in November.

The centerpiece of the plan is what is termed the Main Loop that would wind around the northern part of the county, connecting Hog Mountain Road, Malcom Bridge Road, Rocky Branch Road, Mars Hill Road, and Daniells Bridge Road.

People living in neighborhoods off those major roadways would be able to access via the multi-use trail the county’s existing Veterans Park and Herman C. Michael Park as well as the planned park at the current Land Application System site on Rocky Branch Road.

The Main Loop also would pass both North Oconee High School and Oconee County High School as well as Rocky Branch Elementary School, the Malcom Bridge Road schools campus, and the middle, elementary, and primary schools campus on Hog Mountain Road.

Long term plans are for water trails on the Middle Oconee River and the Apalachee River and a Rails-To-Trails route from the county line on the Oconee River northeast of Watkinsville through Bishop and Farmington to the county line on the Apalachee River in the south.

The county’s Recreation Advisory Committee already has reviewed the map of the proposed trails and suggested priorities for construction of segments of the Main Loop.

Oconee Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell, who attended the meeting with the citizen advisory body, said the next step is to get broad public input on the proposed plans, possibly at the Town Hall meeting of the Commission scheduled for March 21.

Development Of Plans

The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) approved by voters on Nov. 8 includes $3 million for new multi-trails in the county.

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At the Town Hall Meeting in August, Commission Chair Daniell said that county was in the design stage for a multi-use path on Hog Mountain Road from Butler’s Crossing to Wellbrook Road, connecting with Presbyterian Village.

“Additional paths we’ve discussed over the years are Daniells Bridge Road from Hog Mountain to Mars Hill Road and then also coming up with a trail system or multi-use path system that would connect our high schools with our parks,” he said.

Daniell said the county already had been in contact with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission (NEGRC) “to kind of put that on paper.”

Daniell said those plans would go before the Recreation Advisory Committee and then “We’ll have a Town Hall Meeting or something so you can come look at those pathways,” Daniell said.

A final document will be produced and adopted by the Board of Commissioners, according to Daniell.

Sara Kaminski, a community planner at NEGRC, based in Athens, presented the preliminary map of the trails to the Advisory Committee at its meeting on Nov. 15.

Map Details

Daniell said in an email message on Wednesday that NEGRC has not presented the county with any written report at this point.

The map shows the Main Loop running for 17.3 miles, broken into nine segments.

Total cost would be an estimated $15.5 million, but that figure does not include any needed right of way acquisition.

The Athens Line Rails-To-Trails route would cover 11.4 miles and is broken into four segments.

That does not include a significant section of the trail, which would be within the city limits of Watkinsville and under the city’s control, as well as a segment in Bishop, also under that city’s control.

No cost estimate is given for that trail, and the rail line currently is considered active, though trees are growing up between the tracks in many places.

No cost estimate also is given for the Water Trails, broken into four segments, and running for 17.9 miles.

Recreation Advisory Committee

At its meeting in November, the Recreation Advisory Committee unanimously approved two motions, one prioritizing the route from Oconee County High School to North Oconee High School.

The Committee also unanimously recommended connectivity of that segment to Mars Hill Road via Malcom Bridge Road.

According to the minutes of the meeting, Kaminski warned that “right-of-way can be challenging in some areas.”

According to the minutes, the Committee spent most of the time in the meeting discussing the updated Park Concept Maps, including the new plans for the Land Application System site. No date has been set for closing water treatment facility.

Lisa Davol, director of Parks and Recreation for Oconee County, had presented those park master plans to the Board of Commissioners at its goal setting meeting at the end of October 

Daniell said on Wednesday that his plan is to seek additional public input on the proposed Trail Maps and the park master plans at the same meeting.

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