It's been 140 years since a railway once propelled the tremendous growth of Mule Camp Springs--a small trading post in northern Georgia--into a city of thousands. Today, that same rail corridor is driving growth of a new kind in the city now known as Gainesville.
Since its opening last month, the Midtown Greenway, built on a former CSX rail line, has breathed new life into an otherwise rundown industrial and heavily commercial part of the city. It's been a long time coming, a visionary idea that was part of a midtown redevelopment plan adopted in 2001.
"The trail is a strategic public investment," says Jessica Dempsey-Tullar, special projects manager for Gainesville. "We wanted to bring a visual aesthetic and amenities to a blighted area to spur private reinvestments."
The trail is already fulfilling its intended purpose; a warehouse and other buildings that line the pathway are currently being rehabilitated. And it's been an unexpected boon for residents--a serene half-mile walkway alongside a stream right in the heart of an urban core. Only two blocks north of the trail, a lively downtown square offers shops, restaurants, art studios and other attractions.
Part of the revitalization included the conversion of an adjacent disused CSX maintenance yard into a trailhead and neighborhood park. With its grassy open fields and staging area for summer concerts, the park is a welcome community asset.
With Phase I now complete, design work on Phase II is under way. Possible plans for the next round include not only lengthening the trail, but also adding interpretive signage, streetscaping, additional public parking and a connection to a new pedestrian bridge over the busy four-lane Jesse Jewell Parkway that will provide an integral link between the downtown and midtown areas. Long-range plans call for the trail's inclusion in an extensive network stretching from Longwood Cove to Gainesville State College.
"Community support has been positive overall, but sometimes you have to convince people that it's not the trail to nowhere," says Dempsey-Tullar. "They don't understand that it has to be built incrementally. But we have momentum now. This trail was a dream we had 10 years ago, and it's becoming reality. It shows that you really can dream big."