Proposals for citywide trail networks and bridges over the Chattahoochee River are rising to the top of Sandy Springs’ city agenda — including in its north end planning and green space expansion — as a 10-year parks master plan update nears conclusion.

The Sandy Springs Conservancy proposed at its annual dinner Oct. 17 a prototype trail behind the city Tennis Center that would pilot a citywide trail network. The Conservancy also revived a plan to build a bridge over the Chattahoochee near the Morgan Falls dam.

The group advising the city’s parks master plan process also has proposed trails and creating better connections with the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Areas.

The north end task force proposed at its Oct. 18 public meeting a new trail called the “Greenline” and the same bridge that the Conservancy had pitched. There were few details about the “Greenline” released at the north end meeting, but it was envisioned as a paved, lighted and landscaped trail that would be for pedestrians and cyclists.

The dovetailing of these projects by different groups shows the behind the scenes work being done to create more connections citywide.

A citywide trail network is proposed in the city’s latest land-use plan, adopted last year, and some pieces are in the planning stage, including an extension of Buckhead’s PATH400 through the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange. But the Conservancy wants to build a trail sooner.

A feasibility study is already underway to study the Conservancy’s prototype trail at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000, with the city and the Conservancy each paying half. City spokesperson Sharon Kraun did not respond to questions about how and when the city authorized its spending on the study.

A map of the proposed Marsh Creek Trail, shown in red, as displayed Oct. 17 at the Sandy Springs Conservancy’s “Thought Leaders” dinner at City Springs. (John Ruch)

The proposed trail would run for less than a mile east-west along a wooded, swampy section of Marsh Creek in the area behind the Tennis Center and the 550 Abernathy Apartments. The eastern end would connect with a new 10- to 12-acre park that Aria developer Ashton Woods is donating to the city. Steve Levetan, the Conservancy’s outgoing board chair, said in an interview that he expects that park to be turned over to the city in two phases, with the first likely coming in the spring.

The trail is shown as a partial loop, circling an area behind the Tennis Center that parks advocates earlier this year said could be improved as a green space, which Levetan says is indeed a related possibility. Along with existing sidewalks, the trail could broadly provide access between Roswell Road and the UPS headquarters area on Glenlake Parkway, and possibly to the North Springs MARTA Station.

Last year, the Conservancy revived another older idea: building trails along the Georgia Power Co. electric-line corridor across the city. Levetan said at the time that the group hoped to build a prototype trail there within five years. That project did not happen, and Levetan now says the Marsh Creek Trail project may inform the power-line trail concept.

Parks master plan

The city is nearing the completion of an updated parks master plan. Ken Dishman, a former city councilmember who is heading an advisory group for that process, said the group was aware of the Conservancy’s trail proposal.

The group did not reveal the Conservancy’s trail or bridge proposals at its Oct. 16 meeting, but did discuss the need for more trails, which was a finding of a survey done by the master plan’s consultant.

The survey initially used the wrong the study area, only capturing responses by residents in the city center, but was redone and now has input from 512 residents citywide. The survey essentially found that there is low use of parks and park programs, but high quality ratings. The survey also found the most support for building new trails and parks.

A section of the Georgia Power right of way at the intersection of Roswell and Morgan Falls roads in Sandy Springs. (File/John Ruch)

Over 60 percent of respondents were “very supportive” of developing new walking and biking trails, new parks and purchasing land “to preserve open space,” the presentation said.

One of the consultants, Steve Provost, said the city should considering participating in a concept study led by the Georgia chapter of the Trust for Public Land to build a trail and park network along the Chattahoochee River. Similar to the Conservancy’s plan, TPL and environmental groups are planning to build a pilot trail in Cobb County, while also building a master plan for the river corridor from Lake Lanier down to Coweta County.

The consultants recommended having 12 acres of parks for every 1,000 residents, which would mean essentially doubling the amount of land from 253 acres to 487 acres, according to a presentation.

Potential natatoriums — swimming pool facilities — could be considered on the north end and west side of the city. A natatorium near Morgan Falls was proposed at the north end public input meeting.

Other needs, according to the survey results, include community gardens, outdoor pools, recreation centers or gyms, picnic sites, ropes course and an amphitheater, among a long list.

The task force plans to present recommendations to the City Council in late November.

Chattahoochee River bridges

Improving access to the Chattahoochee River was strongly supported at the first north end public meeting, and one proposal addressing that unveiled at the Oct. 18 north end meeting would be to build a new pedestrian bridge over the river in the Morgan Falls area, which was proposed and studied in 2010 before stalling.

That proposal received mixed reaction, with some people saying the city should instead revisit the stalled plan to build a pedestrian bridge parallel to the existing vehicular Roswell Road bridge.

An artist’s conception of a pedestrian bridge across the Chattahoochee River near Morgan Falls dam, dating to 2003, displayed at the Sandy Springs Conservancy’s dinner. (John Ruch)

The Conservancy also proposed the same bridge at its dinner. Unlike the Marsh Creek Trail plan, there is no new study or timeline. Levetan said he just wants to float the idea again in modern times, when trails are more familiar to the public. He also noted that during the bridge planning more than eight years ago, the city’s Morgan Falls Overlook Park did not yet exist in that area. “So people didn’t have a vision of what this could be,” he said.

The bridge would connect Sandy Springs with Cobb County and give access to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, which has trails of its own.

The city’s Next 10 Comprehensive Plan calls for constructing a new footbridge across the Chattahoochee River within the next 10 years.

–Evelyn Andrews and John Ruch

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