When County Attorney Spencer Lee contacted me back in February to see if Chehaw was interested in participating in a greenspace master plan that might result in the downtown trail connecting to the park, I was a little bit surprised and a whole lot excited.
My surprise stemmed from a history of discussion and disappointment with something that has long been known as the Chehaw Connector. This was a hot topic when I arrived in Albany in 2004. The plan, as put forth by Albany Tomorrow Inc. (ATI), was to create a trail system that connected downtown to Chehaw Park in the north and, eventually, Radium Springs to the south.
The trail made it as far as Cox Landing on Philema Road. Right-of-way property was purchased and the abutments for the pedestrian bridge across Philema were designed, but that is as far as we got. The bridge to Chehaw died in 2009, was briefly resurrected under City Manager Al Lott in 2010, but, once again, disappeared.
In the meantime, Chehaw volunteers have slogged their way through the woods and hacked out eight or nine miles of off-road bike trails. The newly developed group called Chehaw Cycling hosted two popular events in December that opened our drive-through Festival of Lights to bicycles. Their trails also host walkers and occasional trail runs like the Cheetah Chase.
Horse enthusiasts are using the park for trail rides and we have even been working with representatives from Paddle Georgia to create some canoe trails in the creek and river systems above the dam. When we open sections of the park behind the zoo later this year, the mileage of our bike trails will dramatically increase as they push into areas of the park never seen by the public and perhaps even allow a connection to Pirates Cove Park in Lee County.
I am truly excited at the prospect of connecting the miles of trails at Chehaw with downtown Albany and beyond. I have long envisioned bicycle rental stands at the park and at Flint RiverQuarium that would allow people to share our attractions. When our new RV Campground opens next year, what a great asset for our out-of town guests to have a direct access to the restaurants and attractions of downtown.
But my excitement is tempered with a bit of skepticism. In my 11 years at the park, I have seen four city managers, three downtown managers, and countless museum/nonprofit directors come and go – shifting our community’s priorities like smoke in the breeze. In my humble opinion, what our community has been lacking is consistent and positive citizen leadership. I was glad to see Spencer Lee “take off his lawyer hat” for the County Commission and address them “as a citizen.” We need more of that type of leadership.
Speaking for the Chehaw Park Authority, Chehaw Cycling, and the thousands of Chehaw members and supporters – you can count us in. We would love to see the greenspace master plan developed, especially if it leads to a comprehensive greenway trail system. It is this type of forward thinking, positive leadership that can sweep the naysayers aside and create something positive for Albany and Dougherty County.