A group of public and private organizations have proposed creating a 100-mile continuous public space along the Chattahoochee River from Buford Dam to Chattahoochee Bend State Park, traveling through seven counties and connecting 19 cities including Sandy Springs and Buckhead with public trails, parks and related amenities.

The Trust for Public Land took the lead in the Chattahoochee RiverLands project, which the study said would create an uninterrupted public trail that would have up to 44 tributary trails linking cities and neighborhoods to the river from 25 trailheads. More than 100 miles of water trails could be reached from 43 water access points according to the proposal, released on July 20.

The Chattahoochee RiverLands proposal includes a bridge connecting Morgan Falls Overlook Park to Hyde Farm, with tributary trails giving Sandy Springs residents river access from the Big Trees Forest Preserve and several nearby schools. (Special)

The study can be downloaded at chattahoocheeriverlands.com.

RiverLands proposals directly affect the Sandy Springs/Buckhead area, where the plan proposes trail connections and tributary trails.

RiverLands would install pedestrian bridges near Roswell Road linking Sandy Springs to the main trail and Roswell’s Riverside Park. Another pedestrian bridge at Morgan Falls Overlook Park would connect it to Hyde Farm, linking the city to the trail in Cobb County. A Bull Sluice Lake kayak launch and Morgan Falls boat ramp would be two of the 43 water access points along the RiverLands trail.

One of the proposed tributary trails would provide access to Sandy Springs and the North Springs MARTA Station and possibly to the planned PATH400 trail extension there.

Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, Riverwood International Charter School and Heards Ferry Elementary School would be some of the schools linked to the main trail via a tributary that would parallel I-285 and cross the river at Powers Ferry Bridge.

The Trust for Public Land has done a good job preserving 18,000 acres of land and 80 miles of riverfront, said George Dusenbury, its executive director. But the organization realized its mission is to preserve land and to build parks. He said it has done a good job preserving land, but really “not done as good a job giving people access to the river.”

To make the Chattahoochee River metro Atlanta’s public space, he said, it brought together the cities, counties, state and federal agencies and dozens of nonprofits working toward that common goal.

Dusenbury said preliminary estimates of the cost to complete everything proposed for the RiverLands would be between $500 million and $750 million, with the project taking 20 to 25 years to complete.

The Great American Outdoors Act passed by Congress on July 23 and expected to be signed by President Trump into law would double the amount of funds available for parkland, he said, which is promising for RiverLands. Cities have begun to develop their own trails that could be part of the RiverLands trail or tributary trails connecting their communities to it.

Johns Creek received tentative approval for a $3 million grant in February for its 200-acre Cauley Creek Park on the Chattahoochee River between Abbotts Bridge Chattahoochee River NRA and National Park Service land, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reported.

The Trust for Public Land is a finalist for a $2.26 million grant for a 48-mile long camp and paddle trail on the river, Dusenbury said. The three rustic campsites planned within the Chattahoochee NRA boundary will enable multi-day paddling trips.

Both Johns Creek and the Trust for Public Land need to meet environmental, project and budget reviews in the second level of applications before they can receive the grants. They will have 24 months after approval of their applications to complete their projects.

Dusenbury said the Trust for Public Land previously raised $50 million for its Chattahoochee River land conservation work. In 2021 they plan to launch a campaign to raise a similar amount of money for the Chattahoochee RiverLands project.

The Atlanta Regional Commission, the city of Atlanta and Cobb County were other major partners in the Chattahoochee RiverLands Greenway Study. The Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy served as a minor partner in the study, Phillip Hodges, its board president, said.

Hodges said the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area covers 48 miles of the 100 miles of trails proposed.

“And the idea is to have this, something people refer to it as a multimodal path for walking and bicycling,” he said. “You could access it from many points, and it has side trails to points of interest.”

The proposal tries to follow the river core as closely as possibly, “but as you would guess, that’s very difficult because of different landholders,” Hodges said.

At some sections the trail can come down to the river, but in other places it goes around some properties.

Three demonstration sites are proposed to create a clearer picture of what the entire project would look like.

“They are very sensitive to the ecological impact or the environmental impact,” Hodges said. “Of course, there are laws and regulations on the book, such as the Metropolitan River Protection Act. Rules and regulations will have to be followed.” It all would be subject to U.S. National Park Service approval as well, he said.

To that end, Dusenbury said the Riverlands proposal does not state there will be a concrete trail. That question was left open. The design is to have the trail support bicycles and walking, but it doesn’t have to be concrete.

The demonstration projects should be completed in three to five years and a pilot project in Cobb County that’s already heading into the  design phase will show local residents, public and private organizations what the features would look like. RiverLands branding should be seen by visitors within five years also, Dusenbury said.

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Bob Pepalis

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.