Chickamauga battlefield gateway revamp coming to Fort Oglethorpe

Chickamauga battlefield gateway revamp coming to Fort Oglethorpe

February 13th, 2017 by David Cobb in Local Regional News

Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / A cyclist casts long evening shadows as rides along the Dyer Field in Chickamauga National Military Park in 2015.

Photo by Robin Rudd /Times Free Press.

A long-awaited revamp to the stretch of road leading into the Chickamauga Battlefield is progressing slowly three years after Fort Oglethorpe officials announced the town would be getting grant funds for the project.

The "Gateway to Chickamauga Battlefield" project calls for reconstruction of eight-tenths of a mile of LaFayette Road to "enhance" Fort Oglethorpe's connection to the largest piece of the nation's oldest and largest preserved Civil War park.

Changes are expected to make the street more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, and more visually appealing, with local officials hoping it will help businesses and create a more inviting entrance for battlefield tourists.

But local drivers still have plenty of time to prepare for the change.

A Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman said Friday a consultant has just completed the preliminary design for the project and GDOT is expected to begin seeking a construction contract in 2018.

"We're just excited it's still progressing," said Jeff Epperson, chairman of the Fort Oglethorpe Downtown Development Authority. "We started this process six years ago now, and we're just excited it's still moving forward."

Officials announced receipt of a $3 million Appalachian Regional Highway Commission grant to help pay for the project in January 2014 and said at the time construction could begin as early as that spring.

The project is complicated, however, because it involves a federal grant administered through a state transportation department that has to partner with private companies to design and construct a county road.

Pedestrian crosswalks, benches, trash cans, pedestrian lights and wider bicycle lanes are expected to be part of the project.

Chris McKeever of the Fort Oglethorpe Tourism Association described LaFayette Road as having the feel of "a 1950s strip mall area."

"When this gets done, it'll be a lot more appealing," McKeever said. "It's finally going to be on the same level as some of the other beautiful walking trails throughout the city. It's really going to tie all of that, and this will be like the crowning jewel at the end of it all."

Epperson said he hopes the project will bring more businesses to the street.

"The goal," he said, "is that we become more than just Anytown, U.S.A."

Operators of one business on the street are optimistic. Battlefield Bikes opened in December to sell, rent and service bicycles. As the store's name suggests, connection with the military park is a key part of business.

Shop manager Patrick Bridges said it can be a little scary for some cyclists to pedal the half-mile between the store and the battlefield under the current conditions.

"When they get this road redone out here," Bridges said, motioning towards the street from inside the store on a recent day, "that's going to be great, and not just for us but everybody all along here."

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.