He informed the crowd gathered near the banks of Euharlee Creek that people often come to the state due to company transfers or jobs. However, he said, they remain because of the quality of life.
He said this quality of life is provided by things like the Silver Comet Trail (Riverwalk) which connect communities, provide green spaces and makes sure people stay together.
Barnes announced that a goal has been made to set aside 20 percent of land in rapidly growing counties, including Polk, for green spaces. “We have distributed $60 million in the last two years to that plan,” he said.
“The Silver Comet Trail is another example of how this is a great investment, so that our children and grandchildren can have the same opportunity to enjoy nature and out of doors that we did.”
He discussed how, in Mableton, his home, there are some 5,000 people a day that visits the route. He recalled how the right of way was purchased from the Seaboard Coastline Railroad. “This was one of the best purchases we have ever made,” he said.
“The Silver Comet Trail, in cooperation with the Department of Natural Resources and local governments, has revitalized areas it goes through. It is unreal how far people will come to walk, ride and bike on this trail. Overall, public trails and paths give Georgians a place to hike and enjoy nature, children a place to go outside and play and joggers and bikers a safe alternative to busy streets congested with traffic.”
Barnes recognized the achievements of Senator Nathan Dean in regard to the Silver Comet Trail. “He (Dean) has been able to get tunnels constructed under the roadways so that no biker or jogger has to get out and stop for traffic. In Mableton, we have traffic lights and busy streets to cross. You don’t know how lucky you are to have tunnels installed to make sure you don’t have to do that.”
Dean, who welcomed guests, including Representative Bill Cummings, said the Comet is an economic barometer for Polk County. “Can you imagine people riding from all over the state to buy food, gasoline and other things they need,” he said. “It is something each person can come and enjoy. It is something you (citizens) own, something you have paid for and something you will enjoy now and forever through your children and grandchildren.”
He introduced Ronda Britt, transportation enhancement coordinator, Georgia Department of Transportation.
Ms. Britt discussed how T21 (Transportation Equity Act of the 21st Century) funds were used in building the Silver Comet Trail.
She described how more than $5 million of TEA funds were used to purchase the abandoned rail right of way and another $4 million was used to help build projects such as the Comet. “It has taken a tremendous amount of cooperation to make a transportation enhancement a reality. It is through the partnership with DNR, PATH, Cobb, Paulding, Rockmart, Cedartown and others to build the route, not only for recreation but also for work, school and business in local areas.”
Jim Kennedy, PATH board of directors and CEO of Cox Enterprises was also a speaker. He talked about the $5.6 million capital campaign launched to build the recreational trails and said another $1 million commitment has been made.
Rockmart Mayor Curtis Lewis presented a resolution to Governor Barnes, Senator Nathan Dean, Representative Bill Cummings and others in recognition for support given to the Riverwalk project.
He said the Rockmart Riverwalk is a cornerstone and part of Silver Comet Trail. “The citizens of Rockmart will benefit from this endeavor for years to come. It would not have been possible without the assistance of Georgia Governor Roy Barnes, Senator Nathan Dean and others . . .”
Lewis also announced the City of Rockmart has received an additional donation of $800 from the Coosa Valley Cycling Association for the project.
Bert Weerts, director, Georgia State Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division, recognized the value of projects like the Silver Comet Trail. He also focused on the dedication of Ed McBrayer, executive director, PATH. “It is a real pleasure to be involved in this project,” he said. “It has moved quicker than any other I have ever been involved with. What you have here is unbelievable. I wish I could be involved in more projects like this. It is not finished yet, but I am sure everyone will be knocking on my door for more (funds).”
In addition to the program, a ribbon cutting was held to officially open Rockmart Riverwalk to the public.
PATH Foundation has announced that all but nine miles of the Comet from Wheeler Road to Cedartown will be built within the next year. Right-of-way has not been established between Wheeler Road and Cedartown, therefore no date is available. The DOT is installing wide shoulders on US-278 between Wheeler Road and Cedartown to accommodate cyclists in the interim.