ANDREW STRICKLAND has a tough job. He is the director of Columbia County’s planning services division, a post he’s held for nearly two years now.
What is his job description? In short, “It’s looking 10 to 20 years down the road.” And there is no crystal ball in his office. I checked.
Like we said, it’s a tough job. What makes it even worse?
“I’m an impatient guy,” Strickland admits.
Take the Euchee Creek Greenway project as a prime example. It could drive an impatient person to distraction. Although the original idea dates back to 2002, a quick check of the nearest calendar reveals we are currently in the year 2016 and the project is still in its infancy. That can’t sit well with a guy who is short on patience and it doesn’t.
“This project really has taken a lot longer than it should have,” says Strickland. “Over the years, oversight for it has been passed from one department to another,” and as a result it has sometimes been an A-list project and sometimes has languished for years on the back burner.
That is about to change. By this time next year the bidding process on a healthy stretch of greenway will be complete. “We’ll be awarding construction contracts in May of 2017 for a one-mile addition from Grovetown to Canterbury Farms subdivision.” Specifically, the Grovetown trailhead will be located where Euchee Creek crosses beneath Wrightsboro Road, just down the hill from the entrance to the Creek Bend neighborhood. When the bridge over the creek was widened a year or two ago, the location of the old bridge left behind a prime location for parking and other necessary trailhead facilities.
FROM WRIGHTSBORO ROAD, the greenway will follow the creek to join the first phase of the greenway that is already open for walkers, joggers and cyclists. That stretch of trail, about three-quarters of a mile long, winds along the creek behind Canterbury Farms.
“Some people may not know there is already a completed part of the trail,” Strickland says, “and some people may think it’s a neighborhood amenity for residents of Canterbury Farms.” But it’s open to one and all.
The expectation—or the hope, at least—is that getting the second phase underway will accelerate the entire project. “We have $2.5 million in SPLOST funds, so we’re ready to go.”
Still, it’s easy to see the challenges presented by this project and why, just like Rome, it can’t be built overnight. For starters, consider the greenway’s intended final footprint: 10 feet wide and 18.5 miles long. The six phases of construction will eventually extend the trail from Grovetown all the way to the Savannah River near the Furys Ferry Road crossing. All the needed land has to be acquired the old-fashioned way—a parcel here, a parcel there—because Columbia County doesn’t have something that many other communities do: abandoned rail lines. Those ribbons of real estate are tailor-made for trails and have provided a ready-made corridor for many a city. Exhibit number one locally: North Augusta’s Greeneway.
It’s a lot more complicated when blazing a trail through uncharted wilderness, as the Euchee Creek Greenway does. Although the project’s very name might suggest simply following the creek, it’s not quite that simple. True, land along a creek is generally never going to be developed. It should be prime land for inexpensive acquisition or even outright donation by developers and private landowners. On the other hand, says Strickland, that means building trails through wetlands, bogs and swampy areas. Aside from the myriad environmental studies and impact statements and permits required from who knows how many agencies, there is the more immediate aspect of permanence. One would hate to have to rebuild a trail after every heavy rain.υ
BUT AN IMPORTANT ASPECT of greenway construction is balancing accessibility and visibility (which includes safety) with the opportunity to get off the beaten path and commune with nature.
Look at a map of the current and upcoming phases of the greenway (which you can do by going to www.columbiacountyga.gov. Hold your mouse over the government tab, then look for the Planning Services Division in the left column. Click there and you’ll see a link for “Greenspace.” The Virtual Tour has some nifty tools waiting for you) and you’ll be able to see Euchee Creek snaking through the woods from Canterbury Farms, underneath I-20, and then curving around behind the Ashbrooke and Ivy Falls neighborhoods heading for the general vicinity of Patriots Park, Bartram Trail and Columbia Road.
By the time we get to the construction phase we’re about to see—the tip of the iceberg—things will really begin to move fast.
“The question there,” says Strickland, “is whether to continue along the creek, or to use the existing sidewalk along William Few Parkway across from Grovetown High School—although it’s only five feet wide, half the width needed for a trail, or to use both routes.”
When all is said and done, decisions like that are why someone like Strickland is on the county’s payroll. A native of Gainesville, Ga., he holds a master’s degree in city and regional planning from Clemson and was part of an advocacy group called Eat Smart Move More in Greenwood, S.C., which helped lay the groundwork for that county’s first bike and pedestrian trail system—built on a former railroad bed, of course.
Strickland is here as the result of coming down from Greenwood a couple years ago to attend a wedding in Augusta with a reception at the Savannah Rapids Pavilion. He was impressed by the idyllic surroundings and when he saw a planning position advertised here a few months later, he jumped at the chance to apply. The rest, as they say, is basically urban planning.
For all the people as impatient as he is, Strickland offers a couple of encouraging notes. “Every road widening project we have on the books—and there are quite a few—will automatically include sidewalks and bike lanes.” It may not be greenspace, but it will certainly afford better access to greenspace. For example, when Stevens Creek Road is widened in a couple years, its bike lanes and sidewalks will tie in to the long Evans to Locks trail that already extends from the Blue Ridge area to the Savannah Rapids Pavilion and the Augusta Canal headwaters. That popular walking, jogging and biking path, incidentally, is poised to be extended to Evans Town Park from its current end near Blue Ridge. “We’re just waiting to hear from CSX, since the sidewalk we’ll build needs to cross their tracks.”
Speaking of green growth, 15 years ago Columbia County signed on to Georgia’s Greenspace Program, dedicated to permanently protecting 20 percent of the county’s land and water from development. The current portfolio stands at seven percent, so continued expansion of protected areas is a priority.
Another encouraging point to keep in mind: urban planning of the kind that gives birth to new highways and parks and greenways is kind of like an iceberg. All the planning and funding and engineering and design and permitting and land acquisition and community meetings and public comment periods and surveying are like the enormous underwater portion of an iceberg. By the time we get to the construction phase we’re about to see—the tip of the iceberg— things will really begin to move fast.
Well, fast as government work goes, anyway.
Daniel Pearson is a Columbia County-based writer and publisher and a long-time contributor to AugustaMagazine.
This article appears in the April 2016 issue of Augusta Magazine.