One day in the future, Sandy Springs will be the cog in a wheel of pedestrian/bicycle/scooter trails that connect to all of its metro Atlanta neighbors and beyond.
The trails are expected to link to Roswell and other north Fulton cities to the north, Buckhead and the BeltLine to the south, Brookhaven and Dunwoody to the east and Cobb County to the west. That’s the goal for Mike Perry, the Sandy Springs Parks and Recreation Department director, and others working for and with the city on a trails master plan.
“Sandy Springs is a connecting point with these communities wishing to extend their trail systems regionally in nearly every direction. It is among the considerations as we explore expanding our trail network,” Perry said.
Greta deMayo, principal landscape architect at Kaizen Collaborative in Tucker, is consulting with the city on its trail master plan. She and Perry spoke at the Chattahoochee Parks Conservancy’s third annual River Park Symposium: Land and Water Trails in the National Park Sept. 18 at the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area’s Island Ford park/headquarters.
In separate interviews following the symposium, Perry and deMayo, along with Sandy Springs Conservancy Executive Director Melody Harklerode, talked about the trails master plan. Perry and deMayo said they hope to present a plan overview to the Sandy Springs City Council in October or later in the fall and get it approved then.
Their first wish came true Oct. 1, when they presented the master plan to the council at its work session, with the next step being the council possibly approving it at its next meeting Oct. 15.
“Currently the city has allocated funding to get started with implementation of the Sandy Springs trail master plan,” deMayo said. “So this year we will see movement with a model project. Currently the model project being recommended is the Marsh Creek Greenway connection, which is essentially within the city. So that, with an aggressive 10-year implementation strategy within the plan, shows commitment by all for what was heard by the public desiring this to happen and happen quickly.”
The city is partnering with the Path Foundation to develop the master plan. The Atlanta-based organization has built trails all over the state, with its first and arguably most well-known one being the Silver Comet Trail. Silver Comet stretches 61.5 miles from Smyrna west to the Alabama border, where it connects with Alabama’s 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail.
deMayo said the foundation will help Sandy Springs find creative ways to build trails that aren’t entirely alongside roads, making them more scenic and green.
At the work session, she also said Sandy Springs should try to use as much city and state funding as possible for the project. deMayo added the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program, which provides a funding mechanism for parks and trails, has an Oct. 31 pre-application deadline, so city staff is working on a proposal to send to the state before it passes.
The city hosted a public information meeting June 19, when residents could give their feedback, and about 100 residents attended, with many giving their opinions, Perry said. Other residents submitted comments by email, online or by mail.
According to documents on the city’s website regarding the master plan, the city’s preliminary findings determined it hoped to have 17 miles of trails once its mission is accomplished. But because comments were “overwhelming(ly) in support” of Sandy Springs’ trail system, Perry said, the city has increased its goal to 31.4 miles. He added residents cited the trails’ amenities: “exercise, fresh air, conservation and natural space access” as reasons to build them.
“The feedback received was compiled and reviewed with the (city’s) steering committee to help us vet validity of trail alignments and desired destinations to be featured within the trail master plan,” he said. “The trail options have increased given public input to provide greater local access.
“We’ve added new trail sections in the southwest as well as northeast areas of the city. We’ve also added length to several of the earlier identified sections.”
Phase 1, which is from the present to 2030, would include seven miles of added trails. Perry said Sandy Springs already has 20 miles of natural and multiuse trails. One of the proposed new trails is a boardwalk on Orkin Lake just south of the Steel Canyon Golf Club.
The Georgia Department of Transportation’s $800 million Georgia 400/Interstate 285 interchange improvement project will include a trail that will link to others in Buckhead, Sandy Springs, Brookhaven and Dunwoody, and the city will work with the state and federal governments and the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts on that part of the trail.
At its Sept. 17 meeting, the council voted 6-0 to approve the city’s scope of work and fee for Heath & Lineback to design the Path400 Greenway Trail extension from the Sandy Springs/Atlanta border to Johnson Ferry Road, at a cost of $1.1 million.
Path400, mostly located in Buckhead, will eventually connect the BeltLine to Sandy Springs. Marty Martin, Sandy Springs’ director of public works, said the city may get federal funding for the city’s part of the project extending it to the 400/285 interchange.
“We’re looking at 2021 on potential for construction authorization,” he said.
But for the trails Sandy Springs is solely responsible for, it won’t be cheap to add them.
“We estimate the cost to add one mile at $4.6 million, not including right-of-way or other land acquisition. To add the identified 31 miles would total approximately $142.6 million,” Perry said, adding he’s not sure how quickly the trails could be built. “Once a plan is approved (by the city council) and funded, we’ll develop a timetable for construction.”
But it may be worth the cost. Harklerode said once the trails are completed, having Sandy Springs connected to so many other cities that way will help residents rely less on their cars.
“It will make it a little easier so you don’t have to, in every circumstance, get in your car,” she said. “It would be wonderful.”
Said deMayo, “That to me is what makes me excited for the future of Sandy Springs and everybody in that area, getting out of the car and getting out of that congestion.”
For more information on the master plan, visit https://bit.ly/2mARFYZ.