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 press.com or call 423-757-6324.