Walker County's trail to the future

Walker County's trail to the future

October 23rd, 2009 in Opinion Times

The completion of a walking trail in Chickamauga, Ga., provides an immediate boon to community residents. It also should serve as the foundation of a visionary long-term project. Planners hope the multiuse path will be expanded across the county. It should be. Doing so could produce big benefits for Walker County and the surrounding region.

The trail, which runs between the Crawfish Springs wetlands demonstration project and the Coke Oven Park, is a place where residents and visitors can exercise and enjoy nature, thus adding to the amenities that improve the quality of life in the region. And if the trail is heavily utilized, it could contribute directly to better health for residents.

Those short-term benefits are, of course, welcome, but the long-term advantages that can accrue if the trail is expanded are equally important. Planners hope that the trail eventually will traverse Walker County. "We hope this is the beginning of a trail hopefully going to the top of Lookout Mountain and to the Chickamauga Battlefield," John Culpepper, Chickamauga city manager says. "If we could get it done, it will be real nice."

He's right. It will be nice. That sentiment is echoed by Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell. "It's the beginning of something nice ... We have beautiful scenery and a good opportunity with the trail." That opportunity -- the extended trail -- could prove to be an economic engine for the county and the communities within it.

A trail that connects two heavily visited historic sites and that offers scenic vistas certainly would appeal to a broad range of walkers, bikers, hikers, history buffs and others. The concomitant growth in the number of tourists and other visitors likely would encourage outdoor-related and other businesses to move to the area. There is, as Mr. Culpepper succinctly says, "all kinds of potential here."

At the moment, that potential remains largely untapped. Expanding the trail to the extent envisioned by planners will take time and require significant investment, but that should not deter elected officials and community leaders. The economic and recreational opportunities that such expansion could provide are too great to ignore.

The initial part of the trail was funded by a combination of local and state funds and by a private grant. A public-private consortium buttressed by community involvement is the best way to make the proposed cross-county path a reality. There's ample evidence that such a formula can lead to success.

Chattanooga's Riverwalk once was a dream of visionary planners and community leaders. The idea of a trail across Walker County might be might be smaller in scope, but there is no reason that in time it can't come to fruition and become as successful and popular an attraction and amenity as the path that borders the Tennessee River.