Trail of the Month: July 2002
Silver Comet Trail, Georgia
With July upon us, now is the time for summer fun, and the Silver Comet Trail has quickly become one of the best spots for outdoor recreation (not to mention bicycle commuting) in northwest Georgia. This rail-trail project began more than a decade ago when a group of private citizens and nonprofit organizations, including the PATH Foundation and the Georgia Rails Into Trails Society, eyed with envy the abandoned rail corridor that ran from Atlanta all the way to the Alabama state line. Fortunately for the residents of northwest Georgia, these trail advocates succeeded in forging an extensive private and public partnership that has resulted in a wonderful rails-to-trails conversion in an area that was previously lacking in recreation and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.
Currently, the Silver Comet Trail runs 38 miles northwest from Smyrna, which is about 11 miles outside of Atlanta, to Rockmart. Citing a specific mile figure for the Comet is difficult as the trail continues to expand toward the Alabama state line. Construction has already begun on the trail's westernmost section between Cedartown and Cleburne County, Ala., where the Comet will connect with the 32.5-mile Chief Ladiga Trail.
The railroad corridor the trail now lies on was constructed between 1897 and 1903. From May 1947 to April 1969, a shiny silver passenger train known as the Silver Comet traveled along this route, carrying passengers and mail from Boston to Birmingham. Owned by Seaboard Airline Railroad, the Silver Comet was removed from service in 1969, marking the end of luxury rail service to many southern cities.
If one group can take responsibility for creating this trail from the old Silver Comet line, it's the Atlanta-based PATH Foundation. Located where the Comet's eastern end may eventually be, the PATH Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing a network of multi-use trails throughout Georgia so that all residents have an option for safe recreation and non-polluting transportation. In the early 1990s, the PATH Foundation spearheaded the development of the trail, working with the Georgia Department of Transportation (who purchased the CSX corridor for $7.1 million in 1992), the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the three counties the trail passes through: Cobb, Paulding and Polk.
Just four years after the first section of concrete was poured on the Comet, communities along the trail are seeing the sorts of benefits that rail-trail projects generate. Rockmart Mayor Curtis Lewis was recently quoted in the Atlanta Journal Constitution as saying, "in the last 12 months, we've had more tourists than in the last 30 years. Before there wasn't anything to bring them here." For more than a year now the trail has been bringing visitors directly to downtown Rockmart. New developments here include a bike shop and, in the near future, a bed-and-breakfast. The outlook for continued development in Rockmart looks good, particularly with the recent opening of the Rockmart Riverwalk, which connects the Comet trail downtown to local parkland.
In addition to the developments in Rockmart, the Silver Comet Trail is spurring on new development—and new trails—in other communities along its route. Both Smyrna, Ga. and Powder Springs, Ga. have new bike shops, and Powder Springs is constructing a connected trail system within their city, including the Wild Horse Creek and Lucille Creek trails, that connect the Comet to parks and downtown Powder Springs.
Clearly, the Silver Comet Trail is really making an impact. And the best part is that the best is yet to come. As Art Nacht of TrailExpress.com recently said, "there is a buzz around the Silver Comet Trail like no other I've seen."