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Posted: September 27, 2012 8:41 p.m.

Concrete trails for Chimney Park

The summer dragged by, and my walking shoes didn't even get their first outing. It was just too hot, and I questioned the sanity of those who kept up regular walking and running, sometimes with gasping dogs in tow. Now that it's fall, I've got no excuses. Besides, Covington is a great little town for walking: broad thoroughfares with bicycle lanes, beautiful residential streets wending their way past carefully tended yards, plenty of trees for shade along some routes, a charming square and enough hilly rises to give a workout to anyone who wants to max the metabolic burn.

My routes variously take me up and down Floyd Street, out Clark Street to Clark's Grove, on to Turner Lake, Conyers Street through Dorchester Place, around the square and through the Covington cemetery. Sometimes, I'll drive to Oxford to take the Oxford Trail, some 1.2 miles long, under towering trees and across bridges spanning small creeks with wetland wilds.

Soon enough, there'll be a generously wide concrete trail specially built for walkers, joggers, bikers, wheelchairs and motorized scooters snaking its way through Chimney Park behind the Newton County Library. It's in the works now, and Cheryl Delk, Newton County special projects manager, said it will be done by the end of November. A ribbon cutting and dedication ceremony will take place at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, right before the annual Christmas festival, Twilights at Chimney Park, starts at 5 p.m.

I ventured out there this week on one of our beautiful fall mornings, but I had to dodge construction workers and equipment at a couple of points so I don't recommend it to the curious at this time.

However, as an intrepid columnist, I felt it was my duty to get the scoop on the winding route that wends its way through 12 of the most beautiful acres in the county and opens wide the experience of Chimney Park. The park is a somewhat hidden urban forest where a grand home once stood and that is now home to two beloved community gatherings: the Fairy House Festival on the first Saturday in May and Twilights at Chimney Park, always the first Sunday in December.

Even with the growl of gas-powered bobcats - no real ones - the way through the woods was magical, with sunlit spikes slanting through the thick canopy onto dense undergrowth. The park's bird colonies were undeterred by the man-made noises and twittered - not Tweeted - happily as they chased each other from tree to tree. The path that begins with handicap accessibility along Ramsey Drive takes you ever deeper into the far reaches of Chimney Park, up and down small rises and back and forth in frequent switchbacks. I was unable to get near the end of the .6-mile trail due to construction, but eventually the trail will cross a bridge and boardwalk spanning a small creek with wetlands before reaching the tunnel that now runs under the Covington Bypass to the Ingles shopping center. Next to be built is a 1.7-mile segment connecting to Eastside High School along right-of-way largely donated by the Fowler Family Trust. It will be completed in December.

The Eastside trail will be the culmination of work that began in 2005 when the first Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds were allocated and the first grant requests went out, according to Maurice Carter, chairman of the Newton Trails-PATH Foundation. "Between 2005 and 2010, we partnered with the cities of Oxford and Porterdale to build short trails as demonstration projects," Carter said. The organization raised 50 percent of the funds for those trails, and for the new library-to-Eastside trail, benches and trash receptacles are being bought with proceeds from the Covington Century Bike Ride in August.

At 10-feet wide, the Eastside trail is the first to have been built with more than walkers and joggers in mind and will accommodate bikers, wheelchairs and scooters, he said.

Delk with the county applauds the collaboration between Newton County officials and the city of Covington in seeking grants, state and federal funds and ultimately some cost sharing to complete the trail. The city will maintain the trail and provide security.

We're not just talking about getting some exercise, although most of us - adults and kids - need more than we get to combat sedentary lives and the plague of obesity. We're talking about connecting separate ends of town; connecting to the wonders of nature; connecting homes with jobs and schools; connecting various forms of recreation such as the library's programs and hiking at Chimney Park with active play, senior services and fishing at Turner Lake Park; and connecting a large segment of the county population via foot to services at the mental and physical health facilities on the same campus with the library and the park.

Ditch the car keys, dust off those shoes, get out and enjoy, giving thanks to those who had the vision and tenacity to see this project through and to secure vital and scarce funding sources.

Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.

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