By Brian O’Shea, Plateau Daily News
The public had a chance to view the proposed plans for the Blue Ridge Community Connector (BRCC) on Tuesday during a presentation at the Highlands Rec Center by the project’s planning firm, Destination by Design.
The BRCC is a hiking route designed to connect the communities of Cashiers, Highlands, and Clayton, GA, through a regional trail system.
The four planned sections for the trail system are from the Village Green in Cashiers to the Kelsey Hutchinson Founders Park in Highlands; from Kelsey Hutchinson Founders Park to Hale Ridge Road in Georgia; from Hale Ridge Road to Wilson Gap in Georgia; and Wilson Gap to Stekoa Creek Park in Clayton, Georgia.
The plan is to minimize environmental impact by using existing infrastructure like the Greenway, sidewalks, paved roads, gravel roads, dirt roads through USFS gated areas and natural surface trails.
The overall cost of the project is estimated at $2.5M and involves using approximately 37 miles of existing trails, and 8 miles of proposed trail.
The route from Cashiers to Highlands stretches approx. 16 miles and begins at The Village Green. It then passes south of Whiteside Mountain along the Chattooga River to the base of Blackrock Mountain, then on to Horse Cove and Rich Gap roads.
The trail moves onward to the summit of Satulah Mountain before descending to KH Founders Park.
Tim Johnson, Director of Outdoor Recreation Planning at Destination by Design said the route was determined by feasibility – factoring heavily on existing trails and land ownership.
By presenting the BRCC to the public, Destination by Design is hoping for feedback to help create a Master Plan, which Johnson said they hope to have prepared by the end of March.
To submit your feedback about the BRCC, email email@example.com.
The Master Plan is then subject to approval by the Project Oversight Committee (POC), a group made up of representatives from a variety of concerned parties; including conservation groups, local and county governments, and the US Forest Service.
After the Master Plan is approved by the POC, Johnson said it will be presented to local and county governments by a group chosen to spearhead the project.
“There needs to be a champion, a group to take it to local governments and ask for support,” said Johnson. “After that, its implementation will be discussed in more detail in the Master Plan.”
Johnson said a project of this size could take anywhere from 5-15 years to complete depending on how hard the group pushes for the project and the amount of funding that can be raised.
The BRCC has been in the concept stages for several years but took a big step forward after a significant donation in 2022.
“Last year the Highlands Plateau Greenway secured funding from an anonymous donor and hired Destination by Design to plan the trail system,” said Johnson.
Destination by Design is a planning, communications, and engineering firm based in Boone, NC with experience in projects involving regional trail systems and parks.
The premise is that such trails promote connectivity between communities, promote quality of life through exercise and communing with nature, promote economic development with eco-travel, and promotes stewardship of the land.