If you are looking for a healthy, fun and convenient summertime activity that doesn’t involve roller coasters or a tank of gas, look no further than your own backyard.
Rockdale-Conyers boasts more than 20 miles of walking and riding trails featuring boardwalks, bridges, rock outcroppings, wildlife, lakes and rivers, in segments ranging from Panola Mountain Park to the Georgia International Horse Park.
Most of the trails were built in a private-public partnership with the private PATH foundation, which raises money to help build 10-foot wide pedestrian and bicycling trails across the greater Atlanta region. And rough plans are in place to eventually connect the segments to stretch from the Arabia Mountain and Panola Mountain parks to Oxford and Covington.
There are currently five trails totaling 9.3 miles meandering through Rockdale County, each offering a unique setting.
A local favorite, the Conyers Trail is actually two segments connecting Olde Town to Johnson Park. The first 1.4-mile section stretches from Nancy Guinn Library across the Parker Road Bridge and past Wheeler Park to Rockdale Career Academy and Corner Market. For this segment, the city paid about $35,000 and PATH paid about $60,000 in construction costs. From there, the recently completed 2-mile segment from Corner Market to Johnson Park features scenic views, rock outcroppings, a bridge and a boardwalk over a wetland area.
To the north, the city hopes to eventually connect the trail going through Pine Log Park to the Georgia International Horse Park and to the Newton County border.
Arabia Mountain/South River Trail
Further south from the city, you will find the Arabia Mountain/South River Trail network that “meanders through football field-sized rock outcroppings, colorful fields of wildflowers, rushing streams, and towering pines as it makes its way from the Mall at
Stonecrest into Panola Mountain State Park and beyond," as described on the PATH website, which also provides trail maps. Information on where to find trailheads and spurs to the existing trails can be located at Pathfoundation.org, and Android and i Phone users can also download to an app detailing trailheads and other trail details.
Rockdale County Special Projects Manager Andrew Hammer said about a decade ago the PATH foundation identified areas they’d like to highlight. “One of those was the South River.”
So far three of the six phases of the South River Trail are complete – from the DeKalb County border to Alexander Lake to Daniels Bridge to South Rockdale Park, or 5.3 miles altogether.
Three more phases are estimated to be finished by early 2014 – 1.3 miles from South Rockdale Park to the Lorraine Trailhead (the trailhead itself is complete), 1.4 miles from Lorraine Trailhead to South River bridge, 1.5 miles from South River Bridge to Monastery. The PATH foundation is paying for 100 percent of the South River Bridge to the Monastery portion. For the other two portions, the county received a federal GDOT Transportation Enhancement Funds, which will pay 80 percent or about $1.5 million of the costs, and the county and PATH foundation will pay 10 percent or about $380,000 each. The county’s portion is paid with one penny sales tax funds.
One hidden gem among the trails system can be found at Panola Park, where two trails around Alexander Lake will soon pass through a restored barn. A second forthcoming attraction slated for completion in August is the two mile trail that includes a 500-foot boardwalk providing a scenic overlook of Panola Mountain. A personal favorite of PATH foundation project manager Jonathan McCaig, this addition takes the benefits of using the trails to another level.
"This is a very pretty trail that will overlook the lake in some spots and highlights the natural landscape of the area" McCaig said. Good for a short run or a leisurely walk, McCaig said the trails around Alexander Lake and Panola Mountain include several outcroppings where native plants and wildlife are in abundance.
The county aims to eventually connect the trail from the Monastery to Johnson Park, but no specific plans or routes have been identified.
Georgia International Horse Park
More scenery and perhaps more intensity can be found north of Conyers at the Georgia International Horse Park, where as eight miles of trails originally built for the 1996 Olympics are available to the public.
"Since the Olympics the trails have been modified so it's not as complicated and there is a beginners trail," GIHP director Jennifer Bexley explained while also mentioning there are 1,032 feet of elevation change among the trails. Maps of these trails can be found at http://www.georgiahorsepark.com.