Danny Ashley, one of 100-plus volunteers who maintain the trail, said the trail is a treasure to Polk County.
He’s been volunteering to mow grass and help pick up on the trail for eight years.
It takes him and his mowing partner, who comes from Jacksonville, Ala., to volunteer, seven hours to mow their portion from Van Wert to the Paulding County line.
“Volunteering does two things. For me, it relieves stress and makes me feel better,” he said.
Ashley volunteered a short golf-cart tour of a portion of the 31 miles of the Polk County Trail.
“Polk County has more miles than Cobb or Paulding,” he said.
The tour started out at Eby Brown in Rockmart and headed east toward Paulding County. The first stop was at mile marker 36.38 at Ma White’s Bottoms.
The view overlooks cattle land once belonging to the White family. The family was the most recognized owners of the bottomland, which including a plantation home.
That home had some distinction in the early 1900’s because survived the War Between the States and Sherman’s March to the Sea, according to the historical marker.
Going further toward Van Wert, one can understand some of volunteers’ concerns. Ashley pointed out that someone had stolen the commercial trashcans and the bridge over Vincent Mountain Road is now in need of repair because thieves have stolen some of the wood planks from the bridge’s side rails.
The underpass under the Old Atlanta Highway, past Baldwin’s Junk Yard, has some graffiti but is maintained by high school students volunteering for Keep Polk Beautiful, Ashley said.
The students come out regularly and paint over markings at the bridge.
As the tour continues, the sun shines through the newly changing leaves. Ashley wonders out loud exactly when the peak tree time will be this year.
He suspects it will be in the next couple of weeks.
He also comments, as several bicyclists pass by, that it is interesting how the trail used to be used for trains connecting Georgia cities.
The next stop is what Ashley said is the most popular trailhead, the Coots Lake Trailhead at mile marker 33.43.
“We have people from Atlanta, Paulding County and Carrollton,” he said, looking at the license plates in the parking lot.
“Look, they’re from Alabama,” he said.
The reason for the popularity of Coots Lake is the ease for those outside Polk County to get to it and it’s proximity to the 700-foot Brushy Mountain Tunnel down the trail, which is a popular attraction for families, Ashley said.
The Helms family, including parents Steven and Carmen and children Mary Elizabeth and Murphy, of Marietta were enjoying a bike ride to the tunnel on this day.
Steven and Carmen Helms are veterans of the trail but this was the first time the children had ridden any portion of it.
The children were excited about the tunnel, but growing anxious about the distance. Ashley told them they were almost there.
“See, it’s not that much further,” Carmen Helms said.
Some of the interesting features of the trail, particularly near the Paulding County line, are the birdhouses. A variety of them decorate the trail from Rockmart to the county line and beyond, but some of the more interesting versions seemed to be along the line.
“They’re bat hats,” Ashley explained as he pointed out worker’s helmets turned into houses for bats and attached to a tree. The bat hats were among other unique birdhouses hanging from trees in the area.
The Brushy Mountain Tunnel, at mile marker 31, just across the Paulding County line is the destination for many, he said.
The long tunnel, built in the earlier part of the 20th century, makes for good pictures and also provides cooler temperatures for those out in the heat.
Ashley said there’s a 20-degree difference in the summer in that area, largely because the old train tracks were cut into the mountain so it is below the surface and has lots of shade.
He was right about it being cooler.
One of the saddest portraits of the trail is the result of bad economic times. A couple was forging for scrap metal from the old train tracks along the side.
They were serious collectors and brought a hand truck for their loot.
Ashley stops to talk to the man and woman digging in the dirt. The man tells him they’re hunting metal. Ashley moves on in the cart.
Ashley said there aren’t any laws that he knows of prohibiting the activity, but said volunteers are seeing more similar actions as time goes on.
“People are hungry,” he said.
The entire trail is approximately 60 miles and goes from the Georgia-Alabama state line to Smyrna.
Those who know the trail, like Ashley, know it very well.
Ashley points to fern already dying back for the winter.
“That’s the prettiest one here,” he said. “I’ve got a dogwood on the other side I feel the same way about.”