Work is set to begin Nov. 1 to connect the Silver Comet Trail with the Atlanta BeltLine, a distance of 10.6 miles at a cost of more than $18 million.

When it’s done, visitors will be able to start from the Chief Ladiga Trail in northeast Alabama and walk or bike all the way to the Silver Comet’s trail head at the Georgia state line, down past the current end of the trail near Nickajack Elementary in Smyrna and on to Atlanta, all without ever leaving a paved surface.

“When we’re done, we think we’ll be the longest paved trail in the U.S.,” said Ed McBrayer, executive director of the PATH Foundation, a nonprofit with the goal of building a network of trails in Georgia. “The Silver Comet coupled with the trail in Alabama is about 93.5 miles, and we’ll be adding about 11 miles to that.”

McBrayer said the goal is to finish that work by the fall of 2022. The extension will go from Plant Atkinson Road near the current end of the trail to Atlanta Road and on to the Chattahoochee River. On the Atlanta side, the trail will connect hikers and bikers to the BeltLine and Centennial Olympic Park.

The news comes after the PATH Foundation received its largest private donation yet Monday, $6 million from the Atlanta-based James M. Cox Foundation. This grant will go toward PATH’s “Mile 300” campaign, which aims to complete the organization’s 300th mile of trail by its 30th anniversary in 2021.

McBrayer said PATH has asked the county to pay half of the cost of the portion of the project in the county, though there’s no written commitment for them to help. That equals about $2.3 million.

McBrayer said the county will consider the trail as it looks at possible SPLOST projects.

Including gifts from other sources, McBrayer said the PATH Foundation has surpassed the halfway mark in raising $18.5 million in private funds for the project.

McBrayer said construction will begin near the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta. That portion is expected to be the most difficult part of construction.

The Silver Comet’s current easternmost trail head is in the district of Cobb Commissioner Bob Ott. He and others with the county met with PATH late last year to begin talks.

Ott said the new connection will be a new, safe and healthy way for residents to travel to Atlanta and back.

“If you think about where it starts in Alabama and 105 miles of continuous trails … It’s a huge feather in the cap for Cobb, and it’s a tremendous resource for the citizens,” Ott said. “The Silver Comet Trail has a huge amount of uses. What it will do is allow folks who want to go downtown in a safe manner and even go all the way to the BeltLine, it’s going to give them that opportunity in the middle of vehicle traffic.”

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