Rail trail to link Chickamauga with Lookout Mountain

Rail trail to link Chickamauga with Lookout Mountain

February 16th, 2009 by Mike O'Neal in Georgia

CHICKAMAUGA, Ga. - Work is under way on the first leg of a greenway that may someday link Chickamauga via 18 miles of walking path to Cloudland Canyon State Park on Lookout Mountain.

Crews from the Walker County Road Department are preparing a 10-foot-wide paved corridor connecting four city parks here in this first phase.

The route up the mountain follows the old Durham Railroad that a century ago linked mountain-top coal mines at Durham to the beehive system now preserved in Coke Oven Park. The ovens turned coal into hotter burning coke to fuel steel mills.

But for now, the greenway will stretch from the 55-acre Crawfish Springs Wetland Park beside Coke Oven Branch through Veterans Memorial Park, pass under a railroad trestle near the Shop-Rite grocery downtown and to Coke Oven Park.

The initial three miles is funded by grants from the Georgia Recreational Trails Program, the Frank Pierce Foundation and the state Transportation Enhancement program.

Sidewalks built in the recent streetscape branch from the greenway to downtown, residential areas, the library and schools.

"Kids will have a safe way to walk from home to school," City Manager John Culpepper said. "This is for the good of the entire community."

Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell has partnered with the city to push the pathway beyond the city limits.

"Bebe's ultimate goal is to go from the Chickamauga Battlefield to Pigeon Mountain," Mr. Culpepper said.

Mileage could be added by reopening the publicly owned Durham Railroad right-of-way. As part of the first phase, workers are converting the railway bed to greenway beyond the coke ovens to Marble Top Road. It could eventually tie to Pigeon Mountain, McLemore Cove, the Zahnd Natural Area, the Camp Adahi conservation easement and Cloudland Canyon State Park.

The railroad was built in 1892 and, changed hands several times before the Central of Georgia railway abandoned it in 1951. Its overgrown railbed, without crossties or rails, still visibly traverses farmland, forest and mountain.

The trail could make citizens and the local economy healthier, Mr. Culpepper said. It would be wheelchair accessible and open to walkers, bicyclists, skaters and those on horseback or walking the dog.

It's compared to the Silver Comet Trail and Chief Ladiga Trail, which span 95 miles from Smyrna, Ga., to Anniston, Ala.

"The trail has been a tremendous asset to our community," said Eric McDonald, Chamber president in Polk County, Ga., about mid-point on the Silver Comet/Chief Ladiga route.

"It is good for locals, for tourists and could be an untapped business resource," he said.