A national park works on the first trail plan in history

A scene from the Chattahoochee River. (Special / Tom Wilson)

Under the direction of a new chief, one of the country’s most visited national parks is working on a plan to redevelop its trail system.

The Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area (CRNRA) stretches 48 miles along Chattahoochee and consists of 15 land units. In 2020, it welcomed 3.5 million visitors, making it the 16th most visited national park in the country. It also contains about 20% of the green space in the Atlanta metro area and is home to hundreds of bird species.

“He is loved by many,” said Ann Honious, a resident of Sandy Springs, who in August 2021 was appointed superintendent of CRNRA, which is headquartered in Sandy Springs. “It’s a special place in the whole country.”

Ann Honious. (Special / Melissa Lyttle)

A native of Portland, Oregon, Honious came to CRNRA after serving as deputy superintendent of parks for the National Capital East, a series of parks in Washington, DC and Maryland. She also previously worked at Gateway Arch National Park in Missouri, where she oversaw a $ 380 million rehabilitation project.

Now, she will help lead CRNRA through its first comprehensive trail management plan, which will provide direction to improve trail conditions in the park’s over 5,200 acres (or around 7,000 acres if you count the submerged areas. ).

“I see taking this beloved large park and raising it for the future,” Honious said. “It goes through strategic project planning, deferred maintenance management and awareness raising so that the community supports and appreciates what it has. “

Today there are approximately 64 miles of trails that run through the park. Most are legacy social trails established before President Jimmy Carter enacted the national park in 1978.

CRNRA has a long and interesting history. It was the culmination of years of advocacy work by a group called the River Rats. “In the 1970s, they were monitoring the development that was starting to take place in this area and worked very hard to protect the river and the lands along its banks,” Honious said.

A scene from the Chattahoochee River. (Special / Tom Wilson)

But the park does not yet have a coherent trail plan. As a result, the myriad of user-created social tracks lack connectivity and are prone to erosion, among other issues.

Now the hope is to create a better experience and expand the trail system to nearly 90 miles over the next 20 years. The National Park Service started the trail plan in 2018. A project could be ready in March 2022.

The trail plan also takes into account the Chattahoochee RiverLands Project, a proposal to build a 125-mile multimodal trail from the Buford Dam to Chattahoochee Bend State Park. This would include a “greenway” that follows the river, connecting 19 towns in seven counties. The Green Lane is offered by the Atlanta Regional Commission, Trust for Public Land, Cobb County, and the City of Atlanta.

“Our trail management plan is our plan and our framework to then work with the communities who want to build part of this greenway and have it touch or go through the national park,” Honious said, adding that they were supporting the effort.

As for the CRNRA trail plan, a key group called the Chattahoochee National Park Conservancy (CNPC) will help raise funds for the projects once it is finalized. The Conservancy was established in 2012 as the official “group of friends” of the national park. Over its 10 years, the nonprofit has spent $ 180,000 on park improvements, including the reconstruction of three river viewpoints in the Cochran Shoals unit. He has a big fundraiser scheduled for March 8 at SweetWater Brewing Co.

CRNRA will also seek funding from the National Park Service and volunteer assistance from various groups.