published Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

26 miles of trails opened in Chattahoochee National Forest

by Andy Johns
Directional signs point to the parking area for a newly-opened section of the Dry Creek Trail near the Chatooga/Walker County line that joins the Pinhoti Trail. The new Dry Creek Trail is for use by horse riders, bicyclists and hikers.
Directional signs point to the parking area for a newly-opened section of the Dry Creek Trail near the Chatooga/Walker County line that joins the Pinhoti Trail. The new Dry Creek Trail is for use by horse riders, bicyclists and hikers.
Photo by John Rawlston.
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CHATTAHOOCHEE NATIONAL FOREST — Janet Brooks is a little nervous that she might have a lot more company out in the woods if everyone else learns about the horse trails she’s been riding for 25 years.

But she can’t blame them for visiting.

“I just think the whole thing is just beautiful,” she said before hopping onto her quarter horse at the Dry Creek Trail area near the Walker-Chattooga county line south of Villanow, Ga. “Anything you want you’ve got it here.”

Last week, officials with the U.S. Forest Service opened the 26-mile Dry Creek Trail System, a meandering series of loops for horseback riders, cyclists and hikers in the shadow of Johns Mountain.

Larry Thomas, the recreation program manager for the Conasauga Ranger District of the Chattahoochee National Forest, said many local folks will be familiar with the area because riders have been bringing their horses there since the 1960s.

“Basically, the equestrians made their own trails,” he said. “We were able to put these trails in in an environmentally safe manner.”

Poorly engineered trails can cause erosion and cloud streams with silty runoff, so crews dropped dead logs across some of the old trails to keep riders on the new, improved routes.

The network of trails connects in five places to the Pinhoti Trail, which runs from Talladega, Ala., to Murray County, Ga. The Pinhoti then connects to the Benton MacKaye Trail, which links with the Appalachian Trail, so hikers could start in Walker County and walk all the way to Maine.

“Most people, of course, don’t walk that far,” joked Larry Wheat, a member of the Northwest Georgia Backcountry Horsemen and member of the Pinhoti Trail Association board.

Those groups, along with the Northwest Georgia chapter of the Southern Off Road Bicycle Association, will maintain the $450,000 trail, which was paid for primarily by federal stimulus dollars and grants.

Now that the trails are open, Wheat expects them to become a draw. The only limitation is a lack of nearby places to camp, but Wheat and Thomas said they’ve heard nearby landowners talk about opening horse camps.

“It’s popular with a lot of people, but not a lot of people out of state yet,” Wheat said.

Still, Thomas said he was surprised at the turnout for the grand opening on June 25.

“This is going to be an even more popular place than I expected,” he said.

Contact staff writer Andy Johns at ajohns@timesfree or call 423-757-6324.

about Andy Johns...

Andy began working at the Times Free Press in July 2008 as a general assignment reporter before focusing on Northwest Georgia and Georgia politics in May of 2009. Before coming to the Times Free Press, Andy worked for the Anniston Star, the Rome News Tribune and the Campus Carrier at Berry College, where he graduated with a communications degree in 2006. He is pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at the University of Tennessee ...

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rides2far said...

As a horseman who rides trails a LOT I have been burning a lot of gas to train at the new Dry Creek Trail System. It's amazing how much farther ahead Georgia and even Alabama are than Southeast Tennessee when it comes to realizing what a valuable resource our natural areas are. I already know 2 Floridians and a South Georgian who have purchased land near the Dry Creek System for cabins or summer homes. Chattanooga has an equally valuable resource nearby, the Prentice Cooper State Forest which has nothing but heavily graveled roads and no parking at the valley level. A valuable Rails to Trails project in the Red Bank area was stopped by local officials who are apparently oblivious to the need for trails and their financial and health benefits. Marion County officials area actually ahead of Chattanooga (the city for outdoor fun!) in promoting a trail system to connect Chattanooga and Marion County across Prentice Cooper State Forest. I'm glad the Free Press considered this new trail opportunity an important announcement and hope they will help politicians recognize that Chattanooga's Ace card is promoting its outdoor opportunities.

July 5, 2011 at 8:03 a.m.
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