The 20-year effort to build a bicycle-pedestrian path through coastal Georgia from Savannah to St. Marys has been given a strong boost by a special study committee of the Georgia General Assembly.
In its report released this month, the 13-member committee, including eight members of the Georgia Legislature and five representatives of state agencies recommended that at least $1 million a year for the next 10 years be appropriated by the General Assembly to promote, coordinate and help fund completion of the estimated $60 million project.
“Certainly, a lot of people on the coast are looking for the trail to be built,” said state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, who co-chaired the committee with state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah. Ligon represents three of the six coastal counties through which the proposed path would pass.
“I’m hoping that the committee report will be a catalyst to bring the state agencies and local governments together to support the project. That’s the way it has happened in other areas,” Ligon said, referencing the Silver Comet Trail northwest of Atlanta.
“The report gives a framework for that. We’re looking to progress on the basis of the report,” Ligon said.
The report also recommends that the Coastal Regional Commission, headquartered in Darien, be the coordinating agency for seeking funding for the project from local, state and federal agencies as well as potential private donors.
“Local governments need to see how much funding they are willing to provide for the trail,” Ligon said. “We are looking for the Coastal Regional Commission to provide the leadership to bring this about.”
“My view of the Greenway is this is an absolute win-win situation for the counties along the coast,” said State Rep. Jeff Jones, R-Brunswick.
“I support all the ways of getting it built,” he added. “We need to figure out a way to make it happen. It’ll more than pay for itself. It will have a huge economic impact.”
Allen Burns, the executive director of the Coastal Regional Commission was equally enthusiastic.
“We’ve very excited that the committee put their trust in the CRC to work on the project. We’re working to try to find funding to make this project a reality. We want to see this project built through all of the coastal Georgia counties. We think it’s a good project that’s got a lot of support, and we think we can make it happen,” Burns said.
Jo Hickson, a member of the study committee as well as the executive director of Coastal Georgia Greenway Inc., said “We will ask all
16 coastal towns and counties where the trail is proposed to adopt resolutions supporting the study committee report and its request of an annual state appropriation to support the project.”
Hickson pointed out that more than 24 percent of the proposed 155-mile trail has already been built or funded, primarily by local governments, including Darien and McIntosh County.
The study committee recommended that the project be built in four phases, with the first phase connecting the Sapelo Island Visitors Center and ferry with the causeways to St. Simons and Jekyll islands, tying 100 miles of trails together by only 19 miles of new construction.
Hickson estimates that the remaining 4 miles to connect the Highlander Trail north of Darien from Blue and Hall Road as a part of phase 1 of the Greenway would cost $1.1 million.