It was my pleasure to attend the first ever Georgia Trail Summit earlier this month in Athens, Ga.  The goal was to bring the entire Georgia trail community together to learn from each other and discuss the future of Georgia’s ever-growing network of paths and trails.

Georgia Trail Summit - lessons learned

Most of the attendees were directly involved in the creation of trails through government funding, promotion, administration, etc.  There were a handful of “Joe Schmoe citizens,” and I was one of them.  While it was exciting to rub elbows with the likes of Ryan Gravel (Atlanta Beltline visionary,) Ed McBrayer (PATH Foundation,) Jim Langford (MillionMile Greenway,) and others, I hope to see many more of YOU there next year.

I promised I would share what I learned on this adventure.  There was a wealth of small facts, figures, and eye-opening tidbits of information, but I want to focus on three take-aways that were most important to me.  I hope you find value and encouragement from them, as well.

  1. The Atlanta Beltline has been hugely successful for the city, and that success is due primarily to YOU. Excitement about the Beltline was rampant through the community, even before the construction began.  This enthusiasm did not come from the mayor, or the commissioners.  It was not generated by a killer PR firm.  It started from the grassroots.  It started with everyday citizens taking the time to learn about the benefits, understanding the positive implications, spreading the word, and OWNING the idea that this project will forever change the way people live in Atlanta. You did that. You can continue to do that, for the Beltline and for other smaller (and equally important) trail efforts in your neighborhoods.
  2. Done correctly, a trail can bring upwards of 300 – 400% ROI to a community.  Prior to this conference, I understood the value trails bring to the health and mobility of a neighborhood or city.  I did not understand the substantial economic upside that they were capable of offering.  Sections of the Silver Comet Trail have produced $4.64 in city revenue for every $1 invested! The $340M used to build the Beltline has generated over $1 Billion in private market investment.  Aside from repurposing obsolete or abandoned land, or connecting assets across the state, it creates opportunity for businesses to thrive.  Farmer’s Markets, bicycle shops, dog groomers, ice cream parlors, hair salons, you name it.  Housing prices around trails escalate, as well.  Trails make economic gains possible for large and small communities.
  3. Trails come in all shapes, sizes and kinds, and they are growing like wildfire.  When I think of trails, I think of either traipsing through the woods or cycling on the Beltline, but there are a number of other trail types and their numbers are growing.  The Chattahoochee Trail Horse Association is dedicated to the future of horses on trails.  There are 13 Georgia water trails, established by the Georgia River Network. The Firefly Trail is a 39-mile regional Rail-Trail through three Georgia counties, which is destined to mimic (surpass?) the success of the Atlanta Beltline because of the growing excitement, commitment, and volunteer efforts from everyday citizens. Do some research about what is going on in your neighborhood. See how you can get involved through fundraising, volunteer work, or spreading the vision.  I’m personally excited about what the Greenprints Alliance is doing in my area of the city, and our family has started spreading the word. (That’s me posing with them in the photo below!) What are you going to do for your community? How are you going to get involved?

So there it is, my three most valuable take-aways: Success begins with YOU, there is more benefit to your community than you might have realized, and there are a myriad of opportunities for you to get involved with Georgia trails…just follow your passion.  I hope to see you at the Georgia Trails Summit next year!

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