Thursday, August 7, 2014

Clayton Connects

This week I learned that Clayton County, Georgia is partnering with the PATH Foundation to create a network of trails for cyclists, runners, and walkers.  The news was posted on  the Because We Care Henry County - South Atlanta Facebook page first and then the PATH Foundation website on August 4th.  Eight months earlier in January of 2014 the county approved the resolution cementing the partnership.   The PATH article states that 105 miles of trails would be created in the county.  The project will be branded Clayton Connects.

This news comes while two (2) incidents of assaults on local trails are in the news.  A woman was savagely beaten while walking on the Silver Comet Trail a week ago in Paulding County.  She is still in the hospital.  Then there was a second less tragic incident on Iron Hill Trail in Red Top Mountain State Park in Bartow County where a man fired a Taser at a female bike rider.  She got away.  In both incidents the perpetrators are still on the loose at the time of this writing.
Two (2) other incidents come to mind as well.  In the first case a woman riding her bike on the Silver Comet Trail was raped and killed in July of 2006, also in Paulding County.  The second case involved a young woman hiking with her dog on Blood Mountain in North Georgia in January of 2008.  She was also killed.  In both these cases the perpetrators were both caught and imprisoned.

These incidents are rare, that is for certain.  But when they happen they are tragic.  Thousand of people use these trails each year.  They're more likely to get stung by a bee or a bad case of poison ivy than anything.  But the chance for serious injury or death still exists and it can't be ignored.   It should be noted that there is already a short distance of trails currently operated in Clayton County by the city of Morrow.  It is called Jester Creek Trail. It is in a part of the county where I wouldn't feel safe and I definitely would not want my wife to go there, alone or not.  A past experience at the library near there has completely turned her off to the area.

I mention all these terrible events just to highlight what can occur.  Clayton County has an urban landscape.  We have the world's busiest airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in our backyard.  The airport is flanked by logistics centers and three (3) major interstate highways, I-285, I-75, and I-85. The highways are choked with cars and more semi-trucks on the road each day than most residents of other cities will see in a lifetime.  All this urban-ness makes someone like me scream out for trails.  I live in what was arguably the nicest area on the south side of Atlanta.  That's definitely true if one reduces the target area to only Clayton County.  However, each day I run I put my life at risk.  There is only about 200' of paved sidewalks on my long run route and none at all on my short route.  So, I run on the street hugging the white line alongside the road toward the oncoming traffic.  That's why I want a trail system.  I know that I'm more likely to be killed by a distracted driver than a deranged killer.

There is always the potential to come upon a person with less than honest intentions on any trail.  The same could be said about the mall or grocery store parking lot.  Clayton County will have an uphill battle to provide a safe and fun trail system that will be a destination for fitness minded residents.

The trail locations have not been announced however, the coffers from the Clayton County Special-Purpose Local-Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) are full.  If money is the only restricting factor than Clayton County should little to worry about.  I hope they spend our money wisely.

The PATH Foundation has it's work cut out for itself.  Though they seem to have the experience required to get things done when they involve numerous and often competing interests.  I'm sure that these trails will take years to plan and construct. Their first line of business is to create a 2-mile demonstration trail.  It will be located at the Clayton County International Park only 3-miles from my house.  That is expected to be done before the end of the year.

Ultimately, I hope we have a trail system that ties into all the other trail systems around Atlanta like the Beltline.  I'm looking forward to riding my bike from my house, meeting up with the Silver Comet Trail, riding all the way to Anniston, Alabama, and all the while unmolested by cars or people.

Thanks for reading.