First Georgia Trail Summit in 15 Years Strong on Vision and Can-Do

Posted 05/19/14 by Herb Hiller in Building Trails, Taking Action

Photo © Georgia Trail Summit.

In mid-April in Athens, Ga., 150 people took part in the first Georgia Trail Summit in 15 years.  

The tone was moderate and corporate friendly—yet no less visionary.

Jo Claire Hickson of the Savannah-based Coastal Georgia Greenway called for an inventory of trails as well as for protecting corridors and anticipating connections. She proposed a one-year, government-university trails study that “the governor we elect in 2014 can consider for policy adoption.” 

Jim Langford of MillionMile Greenway (MMG), the organization that coordinated the summit, noted a great commonality among communities and their needs and plans, and great enthusiasm for new trail ideas. He also noted a desire among attendees for more meetings of this kind and the desire “to do this in a nonprofit way instead of government.” 

But of course, there were more questions than answers.

“We don’t have answers yet to where public funding will come from, through which agencies and [for what purposes it will be applied],” said Langford. “The time is right to get legislators together. They need to hear some successes…and that the movement is broad based and not led by a single organization.”

It was two Atlanta-based organizations—the PATH Foundation and the Atlanta BeltLine—that showed the way for getting trails built. Both championed private-public partners and privately driven nonprofit leadership.

PATH Foundation is a trail-building dynamo that, in the last 23 years, has put up some 200 miles of trail, including the widely used 61.5-mile Silver Comet Trail. PATH’s ambition is to make Atlanta the best trail-connected city in America, with its work centering on a 20-year vision newly advanced by $14.33 million raised to build 37 more miles of trail. 

The 33-mile Atlanta BeltLine—when complete—will connect 45 in-town neighborhoods, public parks and commuter rail. It will run directly through the third level of the million-square-foot multi-purpose Ponce City Market that developers emphasize will have bike valet, changing facilities and showers to encourage alternative commuting options. 

Ryan Gravel was responsible for initiating the BeltLine idea as a Georgia Tech graduate. “People along the route have discovered a vision better than anybody else was showing them,” said Gravel. “They’re filling it out with affordable and public housing, art, farmers’ markets, local food, pollinators and bocce ball courts. People are really organizing their lives around this new corridor. It lets them live the lives they want.”

He added, “We’re not only dramatically changing the physical form of the city and how people connect, but we’re changing our cultural expectations. This is huge for a city generally considered the poster child for sprawl. Looking ahead, it’s a different world.”

A summary report of the summit has called for annual meetings, a statewide strategic trails plan and educating legislators. For the complete report and for additional Georgia trail resources, go to

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