The Greenway

Kathy Koon briskly walks down a tree covered path.  She stops momentarily to look at a bird hunting for fish in the river running alongside her, sighs, and then keeps walking.

 
“There is nothing better than taking a walk in nature,” she says. “We have to value green space in our community otherwise we lose touch.”
 
She is one of many Clarke County citizens who enjoy the Greenway along the Oconee River.  Every Sunday she eats her lunch then goes for a walk along then a river trail provided by the initiative.  She will have more places along the river to enjoy her ritual one day. 
 
In June of 2009, the Clarke-County Commissioners approved planning maps the Department of Leisure Services Natural Resource Division compiled for the northern section of North Oconee River.   This section of the river will lead north of downtown to the Botanical Gardens on Milledge Avenue.
 
 The river trails will connect the parts of the Greenway already heading toward downtown.
 
 “Students will be able to use it to get to school,” said Mel Cochran, the Greenway facilitator supervisor.  “It’s unsafe to walk and bike on the main roads and the path will be an alternative.”
 
The Greenway is a long process that is years in the making.  The efforts have been in effect since to 1970’s when Warren Manning first proposed a greenway system for the river because of the presence of industrial waste. 
 
The concept was then adopted by Charlie Aguar who, according to Chocran, is the father of the modern Greenway.  The Greenway Network now works with nature and citizens as equal parts of the equation.  Because the Greenway doesn’t claim or rezone land, the process can take a long time and delay plans for all development even when the commission gives the go ahead.
 
“There wont be any development of the greenway this year,” said Cochran.  “Unless some grant comes our way, we are pretty much sitting it out till then.  Sadly, most environmental organizations like this don’t get much money from the government.”
 
The goal of the project, according to the Greenway Network Plan adopted June 2003, is to “provide a natural buffer system that enhances quality of life through the conservation and preservation of natural life support systems.”  This is a cause citizens, like Kathy Koon, can get behind but tax dollars are not enough to fuel the project.
 
“It takes about $20 million for us to do about 8 miles since we don’t rezone or take it,” said Chocran.  “I might not see it finished in my lifetime.”
 
Because of the expense of buying land, the Greenway often tries to negotiate with land owners to use their land in an eco-friendly way. The Greenway must get permission to build and Chocran finds many people are uncomfortable at first.
 
“First, we have to reassure people that we aren’t going to take their land,” said Cochran.  “Then we have to get over the fear of stranger danger.  Many people don’t want other people being able to bike or run through their yard, but from my experience, our patrons are good people who use the area as a safe place for their families and usually land owners start to see the benefit of it.”
 
Kathy Koon sees both side of this argument.
 
“You hear about how people have been killed on the Silver Commit Trail in Atlanta and you don’t want that in your community,” said Koon.  “On the other hand, the mission of the Greenway in noble; they want to protect the environment and that is something I can get behind.”
 
As Cochran and her colleagues reassure people of the benefits of the Greenway, their efforts will not see real results until they get more money.  Until then, the Greenway sign on Oconee Road will advertise only a dream of a trail. 
 
“It’s a wonderful asset to our community,” said Cochran, “and slowly but surely we will get it done.” 

Until then Kathy Koon will have to keep to the familiar trails of the Greenway, but she looks forward to the prospect of new places to sightsee one day.  

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