Local News

May 3, 2014

Busting dirt

CHATSWORTH — “If we could get more troubled people outside there would be less troubled people in the world.”

Rick Moon, president of the Georgia Pinhoti Trail Association, says he learned that perspective after working on a new section of the Pinhoti, a 335-mile trail spanning from Flagg Mountain, Ala., to Chatsworth, ultimately connecting with the Appalachian Trail.

Several trail enthusiasts — mountain bikers, walkers and horseback riders — gathered Saturday afternoon during a grand opening of a new access, including a parking lot, located off Dennis Mill Road. Seeing the entrance completed is “therapy” to Moon. The new access adds roughly 16 miles of trail that goes towards Fort Mountain before joining the main road, organizers said.

“I was having some personal issues, interpersonal stuff, relationships,” he said. “To just come out here and bust dirt was therapeutic. I need a trail. I ride a mountain bike around four times a week, minimum. And it’s mainly to get out in nature, to enjoy the beauty and peace. The trails help you work things out. It’s pretty wild, isn’t it? That the trail helped me to deal with a problem?”

Perhaps that’s why “strong communities” rally around trails, said Michael Leonard, vice chairman of the Conversation Fund. The federal organization oversees government funding and private donations that go toward projects including trail growth, parks and historic battlefields.

“I remember the first time I ever saw the Appalachian Trail, up in the Great Smoky Mountains, when I was about 7 years old,” Leonard, a lawyer from Winston-Salem, N.C., said. “It just fascinated me. I said, ‘man, I want to do this.’ I haven’t done it yet (the full trail runs 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine), but the forest and the woods got really, really important to me at that age. When I was in the third grade, I had my mother order me two books about the national parks. I was fascinated by it.”

Leonard said he’s been working since his 20s to grow the Pinhoti. At 61, the opening of more trail access is “very rewarding.”

“To come down and see these communities that have formed around trails, and the number of people that it means something to, to see local businesses, and the (Chatsworth-Eton-Murray County Chamber of Commerce) and the sole commissioner (Brittany Pittman) here — you know — I go, ‘That’s really good.’”

Perhaps the various organizations at the Saturday opening shows best how many people care about trails. Moon thanked members of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, Conasauga District Trail Volunteers, Conasauga Ranger District, International Mountain Bike Association, Southern Off-Road Bike Association, state Department of Tourism and many other organizations. He also thanked several individuals who volunteered time to help plan and build the trails.

“The whole country is looking at the Southeast and what we do around here, to model after us,” he said. “They are envious of what we’re doing here in the South. These trails are about economic development, too. These trails bring in people from all over the country.”

Leonard said unity is key for trails to continue to grow. It’s not always easy to get everyone to agree on trail projects, Moon said, but that’s a sign of passion.

“Relationships aren’t perfect,” he said. “(And) this is stuff we care about. When you pull the onion (layers) back on these groups, everyone is passionate about trails. There can be some serious arguments and fights. There can be splits, just like a church. But these trails, when you’re on them, help you work all that out.”

Leonard and Moon said the next big Pinhoti project will focus on adding access near Cave Spring in Floyd County. Leonard said he’s also looking at widening paths to make bike access easier and moving trails further from roads.

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