Many Auburn outdoor enthusiasts are familiar with nearby Chewacla State Park’s miles of hiking and biking trails. But now, a group of adventurers are planning a new system of trails for thrill-seekers and nature lovers alike just a short drive from Auburn.
The project leaders want to build 25 miles of mixed-use mountain biking and hiking trails through Standing Boy Creek Wildlife Management Area, a 1,580-acre piece of undeveloped Georgia forest just north of Columbus, Georgia.
Blake Melton, a lawyer for Synovus who is spearheading the project, said the fund to construct the trails had drawn $700,000 of its $1.75 million goal.
“The trails are flagged,” Melton said. “We are getting ready to do the environmental and archaeological survey. Those could definitely turn up some things that require the trail corridors to be tweaked a little, but the current task is to do those and to raise more money.”
The proposed trail network would allow mountain bikers and hikers to use the trail together with minimal conflict because it would be professionally designed, Melton said.
It would be a complement to Chewacla, which offers 30 miles of track to riders of different skill levels.
Shelton said he expected the trail network to draw people from Auburn, Birmingham, northern Florida, Atlanta and beyond.
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He pointed out that a lot of the growth he has seen in the Georgia mountain biking scene seemed to be driven by the thriving community in Auburn and East Alabama.
“The proximity of Auburn (or future trails in areas like Pine Mountain) will increase the number of individuals traveling to our region to ride,” the fundraising page for the project reads.
The overall master plan for the development calls for the state to build some gravel parking spaces.
The donated funds will then be used to create the trails. The whole area was originally planned as a full state park, complete with cabins, boating and even an alpine slide.
Opposition from property owners scuttled that idea, and now, the proposed trails are the only development planned for the space.
“My sense is the large majority of neighboring land owners are comfortable with the current plan,” Melton said. “We want to make sure there’s enough parking on the property that we don’t have people parking [on the road].”
Scott Dirksen, assistant director of Auburn Outdoors, said the proposed trail system looked like a great addition to the area’s recreational offerings.
“The benefit, the exciting part is having another trail system nearby to make this more of a destination for people to ride bikes and to get on bikes and go outside,” Dirksen said. “It’s gonna be awesome.”
Students said they are excited for the possibilities, too.
“I think it will be very beneficial to get more people outside,” said AnnaLevi Chavis, junior in anthropology.
“People in the afternoons can go to Chewacla, then they go a little bit further to this new place,” said Joshua Bradford, senior in natural resource management. “Keep mixing it up.”
If funding comes through and the current surveys don’t warrant any major changes Melton said he expects the trails to be complete and open as early as 2020.
If the project doesn’t get all the funding it needs, Melton said at least part of the trail system could still be built.
Then, the rest of the project could be re-evaluated if it becomes popular enough to warrant more trails.
“Hopefully, it will be a good experience for everyone,” Melton said. “If we build these and there are so many people out there and it’s congested, that’s great. That’s a whole bunch of people outside, and the solution there is to find places to build more trails.”
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