Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Great Eastern Trail

I don't get to hike as often as I used to, and the Deity knows I've never been metaphorical or literal Scotty Bo. But, all that said, it always makes me a little giddy when I hear a new trail system is being developed.

Dig this article by Pat Sohn from the Chattanooga Free Press:

A new cross-country footpath called the Great Eastern Trail will pass through Chattanooga on its 10,000-mile route from Florida to New York to North Dakota, according to trail planners."Chattanooga is really poised to be a trail town," said Jeffrey Hunter, Southeast trail programs director for the American Hiking Society.

Mr. Hunter and Alison Bullock, projects director for the National Park Service’s rivers, trails and conservation assistance program, have been meeting with small trail groups to plan the new trail system.

In Chattanooga, the trail could cross the Tennessee River over the Walnut Street Bridge or along a proposed pedestrian underpass beneath the C.B. Robinson Bridge. Or it might traverse the city by way of both paths, the planners said.

Bobby Davenport, a Chattanoogan and the director of the Tennessee Trust for Public Land, said the plan is very good news."

It cements our reputation as a world-class recreation city," he said. "Our greenway system, fully executed, will have no peer in the country. And a first-class regional trail makes it even better.

"Paul Freeman, executive director of the Cumberland Trail Conference, said the trail will add to the awareness of Chattanooga as an outdoor adventure mecca."

There are a hundred reasons to build this trail," he said. "It’s just another spoke in the wheel for outdoor adventure in Chattanooga." Now, say Mr. Hunter and Ms. Bullock, it’s up to volunteers to carry out final planning and build the links between existing trails such as the Chattanooga Greenway system, the Cumberland Trail, the Georgia Pinhoti Trail and Kentucky’s Pine Mountain Trail.

The Southeastern trails will form the backbone of a new path from Florida’s National Scenic Trail to New York’s intersection with the North Country National Scenic Trail, which runs to North Dakota, according to Mr. Hunter.

As laid out now at 1,600 miles, the Great Eastern Trail would connect some 10,000 miles of other trails — including Chattanooga’s Riverwalk, the North Chickamauga Gorge walk and other local paths.

The Cumberland Trail, which begins just outside Chattanooga, will form some 300 miles of the Great Eastern Trail, Mr. Hunter said.

But the exact route the trail will take to connect to the Cumberland Trail from the Georgia Pinhoti trail through the Chattahoochee National Forest is not yet certain."

The unknown is Walker County," Ms. Bullock said.

There, she is working with several small trail groups and local officials to determine the connector trail north into Chattanooga. There are discussions about whether travelers should be routed across Lookout Mountain or more to the east to link with the North Chickamauga Greenway, she said.

Either way, she said, the trail can change Chattanooga and the smaller towns it touches."

This is good for the community," she said, citing National Park Service studies that show property values near trails and greenways increase more than property values farther from designated greenspaces.

She also pointed to Damascus, Va., as an example. The town, which had lost manufacturing firms, began to grow again after the Virginia Creeper Trail was opened there as a link to the Appalachian Trail. Now Damascus is a busy bedand-breakfast town with new restaurants and coffee shops, she said.

As for the proposed pedestrian bridge beneath the C.B. Robinson Bridge, Mr. Davenport said the Trust for Public Land has applied for a $1.5 million state grant to fund the work, patterned after a similar bridge in Richmond, Va."

We could hear as early as July or as late as November if we succeed," he said.

Once across the bridge, a trail on the C.B. Robinson route would run eventually to the North Chickamauga Greenway trail up the North Chickamauga Creek gorge to the Cumberland Trail.

CHALLENGES Between Alabama’s southernmost Conecuh Trail through bottomland forest and stands of cane, and the state’s northern Alabama Pinhoti Trail is a 220-mile gap that will cross the southernmost 1,000-foot peak of the Appalachian chain. Flagg Mountain is topped with a 50-foot stone tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1935. The Cumberland Trail, too, has challenges. Currently only 165 of its 300 miles are open to hikers.

This is where the volunteers come in, Mr. Hunter said. This year, five "volunteer vacations" are planned along the Cumberland and Pine Mountain trails to complete portions of the walkway.

On these vacations, hikers clear and build new trail beds and stream crossings, as well as mark trail directions.

"When I am talking to students, I often say, ‘How many of you can raise your hand and say I changed history,’" said the Cumberland Trail’s Mr. Freeman. "I tell them I’m giving them an opportunity to do that. I’m giving them an opportunity to change the map."

Still other challenges will require policy, planning and funding help. Landowners must be persuaded to befriend the trail and provide easements. Some land will have to be acquired. Rivers and highways will need crossings. A coalition of trail groups already is working through some of these issues, Ms. Bullock said.

A recent edition of the American Hiker, the magazine of the American Hiking Society, traces the history of this new trail to 1960s concerns with future pressures on the Appalachian Trail.

"Trails are a dynamic process. They’re always evolving," Mr. Hunter said.

Worries about population growth, road projects and military installations prompted the tracks of two major trails west of the Appalachian Trail — the Benton MacKaye Trail tying Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountains and the Tuscarora Trail through parts of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Cumberland Trail and Kentucky’s Pine Mountain Trail, will be the foundation of the Great Eastern Trail.

In the late 1990s, members of Hiking Society and the National Park Service began talking to members of smaller trail groups about linking their trails to form the larger alternative corridor, Mr. Hunter said."

The Appalachian Trail gets tremendous use," Mr. Hunter said. "But all of these other trails are wonderful resources, and they need attention, too."

You get all that? Interesting stuff, eh? I got a couple more links for you. First, a website which describes the trail at some length - I'm not sure of how "official" it is, but it has some nice links. Take a gander. Alternatively, check out the original version, the American Hiking Society's article on the subject (its in PDF, so consider yourself warned).

And, as for the Damascus/land value angle (in dark blue, above), I think its key to remember that towns which have benefited heavily from the AT have embraced it not just as physical artifact, but as a cultural artifact as well. Damascus hosts festivals and has radically transformed its local economy to suit the Trail and its users - this isn't a warning against trail development, but it is a caution against over-idealizing the nature of "trail effect."

Also, its seems that West Virginia and Kentucky have been largely left out again (at least beyond the border towns). . . one has to wonder why . . . or at least one can pretend to wonder why, until one recognizes that the trail is expanding west in-synch with the westward expansion of the Eastern Megalopolis (and rise of Nashville and the Tennessee Valley cities). It seems that unless you're within an hour or two of a significant city, (excepting the Clinch Mountains line), you simply don't warrent being part of a national trail.

Of course, there are always Cincy, Charleston, Pittsburgh, Wheeling, Huntington, Beckley, Frankfort, and Lexington. Hmm. I dunno'.

4 comments:

J. Michael Mason said...

As a side note, the map linked with this article fails to point out that the section planned through West Virginia is an existing trail. The Allegheny Trail runs the ridges from the Mason-Dixon line in eastern WVa to Pearisburg, Va, where it intersects with the Appalachian Trail. It isn't that popular of a trail with hikers now, mainly because it doesn't have the mail drop and shelter access that the A.T. has, but the Great Eastern Trail may change that since there are hikers that say the A.T. is too crowded but the Allegheny is too short for people that want a challenge.
At least we are giving a place for the nomadic wanderers of the country to hide in the woods. Or the government is getting an infrastructure in place for when we run out of gas.

J. Michael Mason said...

And here's a trail, when finished, would take you from Radford, Va, thru Hinton, Charlestown, Huntington to near Cincy

J. Michael Mason said...

Okay, cut and paste this if you want the link from the last comment to work. Sorry

http://maryinglestrailblazers.homestead.com/index.html

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