This bridge for no cars

“One mile down…ELEVEN more to go,” said a fist-pumping Betsy Eggers, volunteer chair of the nonprofit, Peachtree Creek Greenway Inc. at the opening of the new trail. 

Since practically the dawn of civilization, humanity has established settlements and communities near sources of drinking water. As civilizations grew and population density followed, human and other waste also eventually made it into those same water sources. Though waterfront property often still remains golden, in city after city, in North America and elsewhere, fouled waterways, creeks, rivers and lakes later prompted a move away from the water and abandonment of once pristine water bodies to industrial use, navigation and further decay. 

The Clean Water Act helped to reverse those trends in the United States, helping to save Lake Lanier, the Chattahoochee River and other watersheds too numerous to mention, but only in recent years in Georgia have we been returning to the water’s edge in cities like Macon, Columbus, Augusta and now even the suburbs of metro Atlanta. And though Chattahoochee River-facing homes and mansions are nothing new, expect the next real estate gold rush to be along the creeks and tributaries, and to be hearing a lot more about Peachtree and Nancy Creeks. 

In a city just seven years old, against a plan created three-years ago, the still nearly new city of Brookhaven just completed a model one-mile Peachtree Creek Greenway (PCG) trail, the first of  a planned 12 miles, which will pop your eyes out when you visit. Brookhaven, DeKalb County, the PATH Foundation, Salvation Army, Georgia Department of Transportation and many others all came together to complete this initial mile in one year, from ground-breaking to trail dedication. 

The trail is lit, and as a result safer for night-time use. Brookhaven Police Department’s new headquarters will literally sit on the trail near Briarwood Road. Security cameras dot the 14-foot trail, easily wide enough for two-way traffic as well as multiple bikes, strollers and pedestrians in simultaneous use with some room to spare. Much of the trail also sits in FEMA flood plain along the creek bed, so the National Weather Service contributed a real-time weather and water level sensor which sits atop one of the road bridges crossing the PCG and creek, allowing for real time warnings of inclement weather, potential flooding and time for local authorities to close down the trail as weather conditions warrant. 

The next mile, in part funded by a federal grant, will head south from North Druid Hills Road at I-85, connecting to the South Fork Peachtree Creek Trail, and then down underneath the Georgia 400 interchange with the downtown connector, eventually connecting to Atlanta’s Beltline and later still the Silver Comet Trail, reaching as far as Anniston, Alabama. 

And though it might have been hard to envision this tranquil and pristine stretch of creek a few hundred yards away from the downtown connector, that also required the removal of more than a dozen tractor trailer loads of tires, old cars, auto parts and human waste of all kinds almost entirely hauled out by volunteers. The creek, woods and underside of many interstate bridges were also a refuge for several dozen homeless residents. Rather than just sweep those folks with nowhere to turn out and off the path, Brookhaven city leaders partnered with the Salvation Army to provide them housing and other assistance. 

Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s new campus in Brookhaven will eventually have a direct connection to the PCG, and though the nonprofit does not pay property taxes, CHOA has pledged $40 million toward the long-term completion of the PCG trail. And though there is no expectation that area residents will give up their automobiles tomorrow, the PCG does offer a route, accessible from multiple points and trail heads, to retail, restaurants and places of employment parallel to a couple of the metro region’s most congested traffic corridors. As word and use spread, it most certainly should off-load some of that local traffic.  

On PCG day one, returning with my youngest child to the lit trail at night, under a full moon, and with Christmas lights twinkling in the distance we encountered a mom, dad and near newborn out for an evening stroll. I couldn’t help but smile thinking that the region just received the Christmas gift of a hopefully new family-safe space. As with Atlanta’s Beltline, the PCG will likely completely transform the area over time. So, check it out, as the city of Brookhaven now has a beautiful and accessible brook running through it.
 
Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, DeKalb Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at bill.csicrane@gmail.com. 

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