Between leisurely hikes, runs with your dog and, of course, shooting the ‘Hooch, it’s hard to be bored near the Chattahoochee River. Now, after about six years in the works, the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (NRA) — the 22nd-most-visited national park in 2021 — is finalizing its first-ever Comprehensive Trails Management Plan.
The park, established by former President Jimmy Carter in 1978, stretches along 48 miles of river and 6,000 acres of land.
While the Chattahoochee River NRA was established over 44 years ago and sees a whopping 3 million visitors or more each year, the park has never formally created a trail network.
Most of the current trail network includes old roads, utility corridors and legacy social trails, which are pathways worn down over time by visitors. However, the lack of planning has led to erosion and unsafe walking conditions throughout the park, thus leading to an official planning process that began in 2016 to revamp the network of trails.
“A lot of the social trails are not located in the best place. When it rains, water runs down the trail and creates ruts, and makes it harder to walk on. And the trails along the [river] edge are not safe,” Superintendent Ann Honious said. “So we’re looking at those [trails] to relocate them, and then others just to maintain and consider the sustainability, so we can think long-term instead of reactive like we have been.”
The National Parks Service (NPS) is completing its final round of public input, which closes on April 30.
The new plan will add 33 miles to the trail network, a 48 percent increase from the park’s current 67 miles. Many visitor favorites will receive this extra mileage, including the Palisades, Cochran Shoals and Bowmans Island.
Throughout the community engagement process, Honious said residents are most interested in multi-use trails for walking and biking while preserving the area’s natural beauty and solitude that only Mother Nature provides.
A plan of this size will take about 20 years to execute using a phased approach, costing an estimated $10 million.
The NPS team is also working with the City of Johns Creek to connect the park to the city’s Abbott Road Chattahoochee Greenway, serving as one piece of the larger Chattahoochee RiverLands initiative. This will serve as the first RiverLands connection to the national park and is expected to be completed by 2024.
The RiverLands project, headed by The Trust for Public Land, is a plan to create 100 miles of uninterrupted greenspace and trails along the river from the Buford Dam to the Chattahoochee Bend State Park.
For Honious, the park serves as a place of comfort and tranquility. And with sections of the park seeing double the visitors compared to pre-pandemic days, she wagers that many folks feel the same way.
“I find it a comforting place to be away from the hustle and bustle that life brings,” Honious said. “It’s great to have those resources outside my window, reminding me what I’m working on each day to help preserve and conserve.”
She continued: “This park is a place where people can go to recreate, enjoy the forest or the river, and have that opportunity to be out of their house and be safe. When we didn’t know what was safe to do, but we wanted to get out and do something, we found how great a walk in the woods can be or a float down the river to revive you and help you maintain that positive attitude and feel good.”
If you’d like to review the proposed plans for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area or give your input, click here.