Lazaro Aleman, ECB Publishing, Inc.
Jefferson County Commission Chairwoman Betsy Barfield is extremely excited about what she views as a rare and unique opportunity for the community.
Barfield, a biking enthusiast, told her colleagues on Thursday evening, Dec. 20, about an idea for an extended scenic bike trail through the northern part of Jefferson County. She said the idea arose from the last Dirty Pecan, an annual event that draws hundreds of bicyclists here for rides of up to 150 miles around the county's rural roads.
Barfield revealed that she had been in talks with Duke Energy for the last year, trying to convince the electric company to make available the old railroad bed easement that it owns on the east side of Monticello and that runs from the Georgia border to US 90 and points south. Duke Energy, however, had been resistant to the idea, she said.
But, said Barfield, just the previous week, following a relentless campaign and calls by many people, the electric company had relented and “the last piece fell into place.”
The plan, she said, was to convert the railroad bed into a bicycle and walking trail, complete with rest stations and other amenities.
Barfield described the desired railroad easement in four segments, beginning at US 90 West, adjacent New Monticello Road, and running north to the Georgia border. She said the railroad bed was high and dry and already ridable in many places, with some of the sections requiring little work and others much more to make them ready.
For example, she said segment 2 had downed trees that would have be cleared; segment 3 was almost good to go; and segment 4 would require the most intensive labor to bring it up to par.
“This trail is very doable,” Barfield said. “Right now you can walk two sections of it or ride it straight through.”
She said she had an enthusiastic group of volunteers who were willing to put sweat equity into the project. As for cost to the county, she said she saw an expenditure of $20,000 or so the first year, and another $20,000 the second year.
“What I like to do is put this on the Jan. 3 agenda for discussion and consideration,” Barfield said, adding that she would have a group make a more detailed presentation at the meeting.
Barfield said that besides the work of clearing and cleaning the right-of-way of debris, other of the work entailed striping, hardening several of the trestles and putting up the appropriate signage.
“I'm super excited about this project,” Barfield said. “It's rare that Duke Energy will let loose a property like this.”
No matter that the county's use of the easement would likely be limited to a specified period of 20 or 30 years, Barfield said. She believe that the project was worth pursuing, she said.
“This would be an amazing asset to the county,” Barfield said. “Bicyclists could go up US 19, turn at the Texas Hill/Lake Road Cutoff, then go west on West Lake Road and access the trailhead there.”