Wide, sun-dappled, leafy trails are wending their way from one side of the county to another and through the heart of Covington. Walkers, runners and bicyclists make their way at their own pace, most of whom know nothing of the battles and struggles it took to make trails in this community a reality.
That burden landed on the small but strong shoulders of a determined woman named Cheryl Delk who, as Special Projects Coordinator for Newton County, envisioned the beauty and benefits of a countywide trail system long before it became cool to support trails. The opposition was ferocious, but these days, communities without trails are at a disadvantage. Trails are an amenity that tourists, citizens and those looking to relocate to a community insist on.
That woman, Cheryl Delk, died recently and unexpectedly from a long battle with genetic heart disease, leaving behind the love of her life, Fred Franklin to whom she was married for 12 years. She was employed by Newton County for 19 years and, in her position, she took a leading role in most of the projects that define us and to which we look with pride, many of which escape recent memory.
When hired by the county, Cheryl was immediately thrust into the ongoing restoration of the Historic Courthouse that later would receive national plaudits; the renovation of the county’s recently purchased Gaither’s Plantation, now known as Gaither’s at Myrtle Creek, home to numerous special events and film and television productions; and the construction of Trail Blazer’s Park on Clark Street, providing basketball courts and open-air meeting space for the surrounding community. The transition was seamless, and Cheryl saw each project to completion.
She sought and won numerous grants to support the renovation of the Historic Jail; oversaw the creation of a prized inventory of county cemeteries, many of which are hidden in out-of-the-way fields and woodlands, and directed efforts to rehabilitate the historic Brick Store, once the county seat.
Let us not forget that, thanks to Cheryl Delk, the unique park dedicated to children, the aged and those with special needs exists today behind the Newton County Library and the Physical and Mental Health Facility. Her discovery of the little known acreage with a historic lineage inspired a band of citizens to create a new park that now hosts seasonal events and daily discovery of the peace and beauty found in connection with nature. The Friends of Newton Parks, a 501C-3 that supports Chimney Park, exists because of Cheryl Delk, and the trailhead for the Eastside Trail begins in Chimney Park.
Trails became Cheryl’s passion. She requested and administered the federal grants that funded design and construction of the Eastside Trail and engineering of the Yellow River/Turkey Creek Trail. She oversaw contracting and construction of the Eastside Trail that opened in 2012. Cheryl also submitted the funding requests that led to then-Congressman Jim Marshall directing $1.1 million of federal funding in 2008-2009 for the purchase/acquisition of the Central of Georgia Railroad Corridor that is today the Cricket Frog Trail. When completed, the Cricket Frog Trail will reach from Porterdale to Covington, then out into the county ending in Newborn after passing through Mansfield. As this year ends, some 12 miles will be paved.
While local officials never voted to approve the acquisition, Cheryl’s efforts initiated the conversations with Norfolk Southern Corp. that eventually led to rail banking and leasing the corridor to Newton Trails.
Off duty and after hours, another kind of trail captured Cheryl’s imagination and intensity: the creation of the Yellow River Water Trail leading to the community-supported cleanup of the river that flows through Porterdale and statewide recognition of its unique recreational opportunity. She was responsible for obtaining a $70,000 grant to build a community boat launch and guided its construction. She and her beloved husband Fred who loves to paddle the river were partners in this endeavor.
Cheryl is remembered not only for her professional achievements that still enrich Newton County and foster healthy tourism, but also for her spirit and personality. A close friend says this: “She was unquestionably one of the kindest, sweetest people I have ever known.” He remarked on her innate ability to create beauty in the world and to see and nurture beauty in others. “I know for certain I am a better person for all the ways she affirmed in me … the importance of caring, connecting, laughing, loving and just plain persevering. …I worked with Cheryl on projects that tested all of us in times when kindness was in short supply in certain quarters. But she never stopped being the gentle soul that was who she was.”
Rest in peace, our beloved Cheryl.
Sara Vinson, Randy Vinson, Rob Fowler, Maurice Carter, Connie Waller, David Waller, Scott Fuss, Lloyd Kerr, Jackie Smith, Kay Lee Brown, Greg Richardson, Terry Smith and Barbara Morgan contributed to this article.