A bike path is being built along Fishing Creek in Baldwin County and will soon connect the Oconee River Greenway to the Central City Park on South Irwin and West Franklin Streets.
A portion of the path is already complete due to a state grant allocated to Live Healthy Baldwin, which placed wood chips on a path from the Greenway to South Elbert Street.
Live Healthy Baldwin is a community organization run by members of the Baldwin County area to reverse the childhood obesity rate. The organization is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and encourages healthy eating habits and opportunities for children to participate in physical activity.
According to Doug Oetter, a professor of geography at GC, the trail from the Greenway runs through the GMC campus. GMC was extremely supportive of a trail being built.
“We’re thrilled to be a part of the mission of making Milledgeville a bike-friendly community,” said Jobie Shields, public affairs coordinator at GMC. “It’s so important to have safe pathways for bikers to travel, and by lending some of our campus to this is a great start. We’re excited to see this path being used throughout the community.”
Oetter also mentioned that GC has long been looking for a way for students to travel safely from one end of campus to the other.
“We have been looking for a long time on how to get students safely from West Campus to Main Campus in the most efficient way ... and Fishing Creek runs straight from West Campus down to the Greenway,” Oetter said.
The decision to build a bike path is especially timely as there have been two bike-related accidents in the past few weeks. Very recently, a cyclist was traveling on the wrong side of the road to try to preserve his safety and crashed into the side of a turning car.
The other accident that raised a need for a bike path involved a GMC student crashing into the side of a bus, which resulted in his death.
Oetter said that through the city, more money has been allocated to expand on already existing portions of the trail, to lengthen the trail from South Elbert Street to South Wilkinson Street, with the trailhead in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot.
Milledgeville City Planner Hank Griffeth said that the town reached out to Piggly Wiggly in regards to establishing a trailhead in its parking lot, and the company was on board with the idea.
Griffeth said the city also authorized a separate bike path along side the road so cyclists can reach the trailhead safely.
There is a clearing in the trees at the south of Central City Park near Harrington Drive for the other trail entrance, and a crosswalk is proposed to be built when the project is finished.
Currently in the state of Georgia, a 501c3 organization called Rails to Trail is making headlines by replacing old railroad routes with bike paths. While the Fishing Creek Trail is not a Rails to Trail initiative, at some point it will connect to a Rails to Trail path that is currently in the works as well. Another example of a successful Rail To Trail is the Silver Comet Trail starting in Smyrna, Georgia that runs to Anniston, Alabama.
This Rail to Trail will connect the Fishing Creek Trail with the already completed Ocmulgee Heritage Trail in Macon, Georgia. Once connected, Macon will be a 33 mile bike ride from Milledgeville.
Oetter explained that the problem with connecting the trail on Wilkinson Street to the trail Central City Park is the land is private property. He said landowners could sign off on their land being used or an easement could be created.
An easement is when power lines run through someone’s property. The power company has been given permission to access the lines through an easement, but the property is fully owned by the homeowner. If an easement were created for trail use, pedestrians could access the trail, but anywhere off the trail is private property.
Running beside Fishing Creek, is an easement for a sewer line. Those who want to build the trail would buy the already existing easement on the sewer line and place the trail on it.
It is proposed that once the trail to Central City Park is completed, it will be extended all the way to Pittman’s Automotive on Hancock. Once it reaches the bridge over Fishing Creek, the rest of the land will be open for use as it is city owned.
Jim Lidstone, the director for the Center for Health and Social Issues at GC as well as the director of Live Healthy Baldwin, said that more money is the best way to get the trail completed and eventually paved.
Up to this point, the only funding the trail has received are state Department of Natural Resource grants and State Department of Transportation grants. The transportation grant was given to the Greenway Authority which then used it to sponsor the trail, and the other natural resource grants have paid for more trail to be completed and wood chips to be laid down.
Lidstone said that while Milledgeville and the Greenway Authority are supportive, GC is in a much tighter spot.
“GC is involved,” Lidstone said. “They are certainly very supportive, but they are limited in what they can do on land that they don’t own. So they’d love to have some sort of bike connection from West Campus to downtown, but they don’t own any of the land that that trail would be on.”
According to the GC Factbook 2018, $141,250 has been authorized by GC for a “bike path” to be completed in 2019. Brittiny Johnson, director of Public Affairs at GC, clarified that $100,000 of this money was given by a Department of Natural Resources grant, while $41,250 is what GC has given for the expansion of the trail.
A second trail, called the Campus Connector Trail, running between the Baldwin Board of Education to Baldwin High School is already built and would connect to the Fishing Creek Trail once that is completed.
Lidstone also said that the project is making steady progress and is expected to be completed by September of 2020. He said the only thing that would speed up the project is if a community of Milledgeville, like Hardwick or Scottsboro, donated money towards the bike path.
Photo by Brendan Borders | Staff Writer
Graphic by Rachael Alesia | Graphic Designer