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South River trail project receives $780,000 grant from state DOT

CONYERS - Another piece of the South River trail puzzle dropped into place Monday in the form of a $780,000 federal grant through the Georgia Department of Transportation. The grant will help fund trail construction from Ga. Highway 138 to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.

Rockdale County officials chose the site of an old auto salvage yard along the South River for the press conference announcing the grant award. The riverbank was once a local landmark because of the number of rusted and wrecked cars that covered it. The county purchased the land last year to use as a park and trail head for the trail.

Eventually, the path will run for about 13 miles along the river to connect the Arabia Mountain Nature Center with the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. The path itself will be a 12-foot-wide concrete trail for use by walkers and bicyclists.

Eddie Shirey, of Shirey Cabinets in Conyers and an avid cyclist, attended Monday's press conference. He said that from what he has seen in his use of the Arabia Mountain trail in DeKalb County, the trail here will be an amenity that residents and visitors discover quickly and use well.

"The more trail there is, I can guarantee you, the use will go up exponentially," he said. "The Silver Comet trail is a great example of that. When the trail was one to two miles, you didn't get a lot of people out there on their bikes. But when the trail was 15 to 20 miles long, that's when people came out, and they could pick and choose different spots along the way."

The grant money originated from the transportation enhancement program for the 4th Congressional District, with the GDOT distributing the funds locally. The program is federally funded by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA). The South River trail is a cooperative effort by Rockdale County, the Arabia Mountain Alliance, the PATH Foundation, property owners, state and federal officials.

"This is exactly what transportation enhancement grants should be used for," said Robert Johnson, a Georgia Department of Transportation board member who represents the 4th Congressional district, including Rockdale and DeKalb counties. "It's about improving the quality of life, and making yourselves healthier by walking, running and just getting outside."

Along with Johnson, Congressman Hank Johnson, D-Decatur, attended the grant announcement. State Sen. Ronald Ramsey, D-Decatur, and state Rep. Robert Mumford, R-Conyers, also attended the announcement.

As with an earlier grant for the trail, the county and the PATH Foundation will provide about $200,000 each in matching funds for trail construction. The trail is planned to go under Ga. 138 to Lorraine Elementary School and end at the monastery.

Also, Rockdale County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Middlebrooks unveiled an artist's rendering of the trail head at Ga. 138 and the South River. Along with parking and trail access, the trail head area will include green space and a board walk overlooking the river. Funding for the trail head has not been determined.

The first phase of the South River Trail in Rockdale County opened in June 2007. The trail runs from the Arabia Mountain Trail in DeKalb County and meanders through Panola Mountain State Park, continuing for a total distance of 3.21 miles before terminating at the intersection of Union Church Road and Daniel's Bridge Road.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: By the numbers

Phase A from the DeKalb County line to Alexander Lake - 1.3 miles. Construction complete.

· PATH $250,000

· DNR $250,000

· Rockdale $0

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Phase I from Union Church Road to South Community Park - 2.6 miles. Scheduled for construction in 2008.

· TE grant $650,000 (Awarded in March 2006)

· PATH $250,000

· Rockdale $200,000

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Phase 2 from Lorraine Trailhead to Monastery (not including trailhead) - 1.2 miles

· TE Grant $780,000

· PATH $205,000

· Rockdale $205,000

Funding has been provided for more than 60 percent of the trail from the DeKalb line to the monastery, with about 85 percent of the costs funded from non-county sources.

Source: Rockdale County Office of Community and Capital Improvements