An intermediate mountain bike trail that will anchor nearly 1,000 acres of green space on Rocky Face Ridge in the outskirts of Dalton, Ga., has received state funding in recent weeks.
Whitfield County received a $200,000 Georgia Environmental Protection Division grant and partnered with the Northwest Georgia Southern Off-Road Bicycling Association to help with trail building. The 8-mile trail will serve as a hub of recreation on property that is planned to eventually offer walking trails, access to Civil War sites, open space for public use and a pond for fishing.
"As the city continues to grow and eventually surrounds all of this [property], having this much green space will be a real gem," Whitfield County Geographic Information System coordinator Jess Hansen said.
The trail is laid out in a loop atop the ridge with access down to the proposed entrance to the east. It will surround natural Civil War earthworks, such as bunkers, trenches and a long manmade rock wall atop the ridge that soldiers used to scout the area. More land to the west could allow for additional mountain bike trails in the future.
Hansen coordinates mapping for the county and helped attain the latest piece of property that will serve as the entrance to the green space. He envisions it as a mini-Central Park when completed, offering recreation in the hub of a bustling town. The property sits near Interstate 75, two miles down the winding Crow Valley Road on rolling pastures tucked along a sharp curve.
For years, county officials have envisioned the possibility and used grant money from the Riverview Foundation to fund a master plan. The county acquired 650 acres of property atop the ridge nearly 20 years ago but didn't have a way to publicly access the land. That eventually changed when the owner of the 301-acre Grant Farm sold the historic property in 2016 that was the site of two Civil War battles.
"It was a long-term project; it was years of phone calls and this, that and the other. The whole ridge line was already the county's, and this was a big acquisition," county public works director Dewayne Hunt said. "We wanted to try to preserve the ridge, and over time this opportunity came. It makes the right addition for the project. Without access to the ridge, it was just a ridge."
The entire project will take decades to complete. However, the initial phase should be finished in the coming years and allow recreation as the rest of the project is designed and constructed. The immediate goal will be building the mountain bike trail and adding restrooms and parking. Construction likely will begin in late 2018 or 2019.
For the bicycling association, the trail serves several purposes, according to project manager and board member Gennie Dasinger. It adds an intermediate option for mountain bikers, complementing the existing beginner trails at Raising Woods and the advanced trails at Pinhoti. It also benefits tourism in the county and could entice families to move to the area, she said.
"Whitfield County is working very hard to attract more middle-class professional families to this area," she said. "There's been studies done that show a majority of people who make more than forty or fifty thousand dollars don't live in Whitfield County; they live outside the county. We believe that this will be an additional asset to draw those people back."