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A 17-mile trail system taking shape in Sandy Springs to connect parks, neighborhoods, destinations

COSS, Abernathy Greenway

The Abernathy Greenway Park features six playable art pieces, pavilion, picnic tables and restrooms located along Abernathy Road. Credit: Sandy Springs Conservancy

By David Pendered

Sandy Springs is moving forward briskly with planning for an estimated 17-mile set of trails to link parks, Perimeter Center and the city’s central park. The city council has allocated $750,000 to further a plan still on the drafting tables at PATH Foundation.

COSS, Abernathy Greenway

The Abernathy Greenway Park features six playable art pieces, pavilion, picnic tables and restrooms located along Abernathy Road. Credit: Sandy Springs Conservancy

The $750,000 is a drop in what will be a multi-million-dollar bucket to build the trail system over time. That said, the money the council put in a budget that takes effect July 1 marks a commitment to continue a greenspace expansion program that was at the center of the campaign that led to the city’s incorporation in 2005.

The trail project brings plenty of challenges and opportunities. A big opportunity identified in a set of preliminary findings presented at a public meeting June 19 includes connecting Marsh Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River, with the Abernathy Greenway Park.

Planners are being asked to thread a trail system through a densely developed city. They don’t have the benefit of an existing corridor to form its spine, as does Ga. 400 for PATH 400 and a rail line for the Atlanta BeltLine. Yet confidence is high the system can be designed and built, according to Ed McBrayer, co-founder and executive director of the PATH Foundation.

“Sandy Springs has an incredible opportunity to weave a greenway and trail through the city, even though it is densely developed,” McBrayer said in an email. “It is possible to connect the trails along the existing Chattahoochee and City Springs to virtually every neighborhood in the city.”

PATH has a contract to design the system and has brought in Kaizen Collaborative. Kaizen has worked on Atlanta’s planned Proctor Creek Greenway Trail, in addition to providing construction designs for more than 100 miles of trails in the Southeast.

COSS, lunchtime at City Springs Park

City Springs Park is located along City Green, a public greenspace, and includes City Hall, a performing arts center, shops, gyms and cafes. Credit: Sandy Springs Conservancy

Likewise, the Sandy Springs Conservancy is optimistic the trails can be built and will add to the park amenities it is working to enhance. The conservancy helped the city pay for the trail master plan and intends to assist the project as appropriate in the future, Executive Director Melody Harclerode said.

“The trail system means connections into the community, connections to our parks, to important landmarks in the city – whether it’s City Green or schools, Perimeter Center or destinations in the north end of the city, in particular,” Harclerode said. “Trails will provide connections among our neighbors inside the city, and to our neighbors in Roswell and Cobb County, and trails will further the connections we are making into Buckhead, with PATH 400, and to Perimeter Center and Dunwoody.”

The conservancy was formed in 2001 and has helped with projects including the city’s signature Abernathy Greenway Park. The linear park features six playable art structures that brighten the view of commuters along Abernathy Road, the thoroughfare leading to the bridge at Johnson Ferry Road that crosses the Chattahoochee River.

Sandy Springs Recreation and Parks Director Michael Perry cited some practical considerations facing the trail plan. For starters, 17 miles is the current talking point, but that length is likely to changes as planners encounter the realities of construction design. The $750,000 is just a starting point for a project with total costs likely to be measured in millions of dollars a mile.

All that said, the project has moved forward at a pace that some governments would view as expedited.

Perry observed the timeline to date includes:

Coss, trail destinations

A planned trail network would weave through Sandy Springs to connect parks and other destinations. Credit: sandysprings.ga.gov

  • February – City council adopts a comprehensive plan for Sandy Springs’ recreation and parks system;
  • June – City council approved a budget with a $750,000 line item in the capital improvements section for a trail system; a master trail plan was unveiled at a June 19 public meeting; the plan is to presented this week to a steering committee;
  • Late summer – A revised plan is to be presented for expected adoption by the Sandy Springs City Council.

The trail system represents what may be the final step to knit together the city’s greenspace program. Greenspace, and the quality of life it represents, has long been important to Sandy Springs’ civic leaders. Eva Galambos said as much in 2010, when the city opened its first park – Morgan Falls Overlook Park – just as the Great Recession was ravaging the city’s spending capacity.

Galambos, the city’s first mayor who’s often referred to as the city’s “founding mother,” said at the time that Overlook Park may be the last one built for a time. She predicted that future city officials would renew the effort as the economy improved. City officials and their lead parks partner, Sandy Springs Conservancy, are working to establish new parks and link them with trails.


COSS, Conservancy, PATH

Members of the group preparing to tour Sandy Springs to review the siting of potential trails include Sandy Springs Conservancy Chair Jack Misiura (left), board member Carolyn Axt, SSC Executive Director Melody Harclerode, and Ed McBrayer, PATH Foundation co-founder and executive director. Credit: Sandy Springs Conservancy


COSS, Marsh Creek Rain Garden Park

Sandy Springs’ Marsh Creek Rain Garden Park is a biofiltration site to clean stormwater and provides a walking trail and picnic tables. Credit: City of Sandy Springs


COSS, Morgan Falls Overlook

Morgan Falls Overlook Park opened in 2010 as the first park created as a full service community park by the new City of Sandy Springs. Credit: Sandy Springs Conservancy


COSS, city springs park, panarama

Sandy Springs’ City Springs Park provides a central gathering place for community events. Credit: City of Sandy Springs


COSS, city springs park, evening performance

The greenspace converts to an amphitheater for performances at Sandy Springs’ City Green Park. Credit: City of Sandy Springs

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Valeria Palmer June 24, 2019 2:15 pm

    And, as usual, it;s more $$$$$ in the southern part of the city, while they have done precisely *nothing* north of Morgan falls in 10 years, while spending millions upon million south of Abernathy. All their plans for the north end center around driving out moderately priced multifamily and rentals and replacing them with expensive housing. No parks, no sidewalks, nothing.Report

  2. nathan June 24, 2019 6:12 pm

    Hi Valeria, I encourage you to look at the plan. It includes significant trails in the northern part of the city that will go a long way to making the northern section more walkable and bikeable.Report

  3. Dave June 25, 2019 8:03 am

    Hi Nathan, I respectfully agree with Nancy. The Panhhandle is neglected at almost every turn. We get the crumbs. We have lousy schools, no pocket parks, no libraries, horrid roads and sidewalks, and very little trails. These all should have been prioritized over the city springs Mahal. I realize some if these may overlap with different governmental constituencies, however, intergovernmental agreements can be used to foster support and cooperation. The panhandle feels neglected, is over taxed and under represented. I appreciate the crumbs but we need mich more.Report

  4. Jayk June 25, 2019 10:20 am

    Thanks for the update Dave! I think the Path Foundation did a great job at the public meeting explaining the importance of creating a spinal network of various trails that connects to destinations in Sandy Springs through. ie, Parks, Schools and Mixed-Housing/Retail. Overall, the trail master plan seems to accomplish that by connecting to North Springs High School, Ison Springs Elementary, Sandy Springs Charter Middle School, Woodland Elementary on Spalding Drive, The Weber School, Mt Vernon Upper School and Lake Forest Elementary. Those are just the ones I was able to count.Report

  5. David Gildernew June 25, 2019 8:00 pm

    Thanks, Jay. I think most of the schools you mentioned are located in outside of the Panhandle. My main point is that the Panhandle gets the crumbs when it comes to the City. We really need to secede from Sandy Springs and create our own City. Our roads, school, parks and libraries stink here in the Panhandle. We are just a cash cow whose money is spent on improving other parts of the City. It has to stop.Report

  6. Jayk June 26, 2019 12:38 pm

    Hi David, To be fair, the Panhandle has the only National Recreational Area in Sandy Springs, which I visit on a weekly basis. I’m also encouraged by the recently developments at Crooked Creek Park at the far end of the Panhandle. Last year Sandy Springs City Council approved a $54,500 purchase of nearly 2 acres of undeveloped land behind The Retreat at River Park, an apartment complex at 3100 River Exchange Drive, to be used to build the trail. https://www.reporternewspapers.net/2018/08/31/a-peek-inside-sandy-springs-crooked-creek-park/

    Dunwoody Club Drive is also a nice area to walk/run/bike, a “path” concept would be ideal there to widen the sidewalks and make it more bikeable. Unfortunately, depending on which side of the road determines whether you’re in Sandy Springs or Dunwoody, so the logistics of the Panhandle can be difficult beyond the fact single-family homes have taken all of the undeveloped land. I don’t think secession talks are necessary. If anything, we should be trying to annex the areas of Dunwoody into Sandy Springs, in my opinion.Report

  7. Dave August 25, 2019 5:39 am

    Hi Jay, No one I know in Dunwoody would agree to be Annexed into Sandy Springs. The pitch: come to Sandy Springs, where your taxes are much higher, your services much lower, the schools rated much lower, and your local government pretty much non responsive. Spending 54k is crumbs. Building one pocket park on the eastern edge is crumbs. How many hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on City Center? Again, respectfully, Sandy Springs views the Panhandle as a cash cow. We are woefully represented with awful roads, no libraries, crappy plans for a tiny park, and almost no sidewalks. If we had a vote with a choice to be annexed into Dunwoody, I’d wrecken it would be close to 90% in favor… I appreciate trying to be optimistic, but you can’t really try to sell me that we are treated well by Sandy Springs. We are and feel quite neglected.Report


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