By Dan Pool, Editor
It was cold last Tuesday (March 5), but it was dry, making that evening one of the few chances we’ve had for mountain biking lately. It’s frowned upon to ride muddy trails as it damages them.
On Tuesday, I didn’t get to the Talking Rock Nature Preserve trails until 6 p.m. It was 30 degrees and the wind was blowing, making it feel even colder.
Thinking I’d have the trails to myself that late on a cold day, I was surprised to see two younger people (teens or 20 somethings) riding out of the parking lot on Carns Mill Road. Another middle-aged guy was loading his bike and a 30ish-year-old was also about to get a few miles in before dark.
Cold, late, almost dark and five people were still using the park. I ride there fairly often and when the weather is decent, I have never been the only person riding. A few times, it’s been on the verge of being crowded.
It’s not just a few crazy mountain bikers either, on a typical trip to the park you will see everything from mothers and kids walking dogs, to middle-aged trail runners, to parents and kids on bikes and there always seems to be a few people in work attire out strolling. There are plenty of metro tags on the cars in the lot, but the vast majority are from Pickens or Gilmer.
On another day last week, I came across a member of our airport authority running the trails. I regularly see people from this area, including attorneys, a dentist, employees of one our larger manufacturing companies and a builder/handyman.
Area bee keepers use part of the park as a training apiary. Geocachers can find several hidden caches there. Discussion of adding a disc golf course still surfaces occasionally.
These trails are a real gift to Pickens County and I mean that literally. They were given to the county. I regularly hear people make misstatements implying this was something the county or state did, which is not the case. The county was supportive and provides some signage, but the property was acquired by the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land (STPAL) and they paid for the trails to be built. Trust records show their private group spent nearly $300,000 on the park with about $15,000 coming from local donations. No tax money is involved.
The fine folks at STPAL, led by executive director Bill Jones, not only took the lead on this project but did 99 percent of the work or paid to have it done. The land trust’s mission is to provide outdoor recreation opportunities and preserve property. Pickens got lucky when STPAL envisioned a 211-acre park in our county.
The trails and picnic areas are free to use. STPAL doesn’t even aggressively seek donations. And STPAL doesn’t expect to ever be paid back by users or the county.
The trails and parking lot are maintained by the North Georgia Mountain Bike Association and the Friends of Talking Rock Nature Preserve. They host regular work days, but some riders are so proud of this gift, they do trail work or trim the never-surrendering blackberry briars whenever it needs to be done.
It’s so rare that plans like this actually happen and turn out better than expected, the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land deserves a hearty round of applause.
Pickens County got a 211-acre park that didn’t cost a single dime of tax money, doesn’t require any public upkeep and is free to use. And that is one heck of good deal. Hats off to Bill Jones and the Southeastern Trust for Parks and Land.