Last week, the Highlands Recreation Committee approved a request at its regular monthly meeting to extend the Highlands Plateau Greenway trail system from Oak Street across from the First Baptist Church, down the embankment to the Greenway switchback on the Sled Run Trail.
“The proposed trail extension goes over town property (Rec Park), that’s why it needs town approval,” said Recreation Director Lester Norris.
The proposed trail extension does not need Board of Commissioner approval, but Hillrie Quinn and John Akridge from the Greenway made their presentation to the committee as to why this should be done; in case it did have to get Town Board approval.
Akridge said the trailhead near Maple Street will have high visibility to attract walkers. By connecting to the existing Oak Street Trail, it will provide a direct route to the Mirror Lake area. It will also provide an alternative to walking along high traffic Oak Street with a walk-through nature and the landscaped trailhead that will be an improvement over the overgrown unkempt area.
The Oak Street embankment is typically strewn with litter and has numerous downed trees.
Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust Steward Kyle Pursel said the non-sidewalk parts of the Greenway are also pathways that do not contribute to impervious surfaces, which means better drainage during heavy rains and less baking from the sun when it’s sunny.
“The new proposed connector will get people off the sidewalk sooner, while still being close to the main roads, which could make the Rec Park part of the Greenway more accessible,” said Pursel.
Norris said the proposed trail extension also gives pedestrians a safer option to travel by getting them off the side of Oak Street that doesn’t have a sidewalk.
“There is a sidewalk that runs along Oak Street but it ends before it gets to the Greenway gazebo at the start of Sled Run Trail at First Street. When the sidewalk ends, people have to walk either on the road or through the grass.”
Oak Street has become a way to bypass Main Street and is heavily used by motorists.
Norris added that the Greenway currently conducts a monthly work-day the third Saturday of each month from 9 a.m. to noon. Most of the labor for this project will be done by Greenway volunteers – a crew dedicated to preserving and improving the Greenway in town.
“The Greenway is always working on the trail system and looking for ways to enhance and improve the trails, and especially accessibility to different locations by way of trails,” said Norris. “We have such a natural landscape that is not always seen from the road. The Greenway gives people the opportunity to get out and enjoy the natural beauty of Highlands.