Ocmulgee Heritage Trail extensions to be added soon

As Bragg Jam approaches, bringing with it the festival’s annual windfall for the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, the trail is slated to extend farther in the coming weeks.

A contractor is expected to begin building a new 4,000-foot section of trail along the top of the levee through Central City Park and south of the park, said Mike Ford, CEO of NewTown Macon. NewTown administers the trail.

This trail extension will be the first major section built in fine gravel rather than concrete. Construction is likely to begin in a few weeks, Ford said. The roughly $150,000 price tag is being funded by a combination of private donations, foundation grants and grants from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

NewTown officials met with representatives from the Georgia Department of Transportation on Thursday to review plans for the following phase of construction, which will extend the trail along Riverside Drive from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to New Street, Ford said. A lane of Riverside Drive will be eliminated from around Broadway to First Street to accommodate the trail, which will basically border the road like a wide sidewalk with improved lighting, he said.

Ford said the area between Riverside Drive and the railroad tracks will be cleaned up as part of the $625,000 project, adding that this should address some problems with vagrancy.

Originally, the Riverside Cemetery section of the trail had been slated to be built starting in the next few months. But environmental and archeological studies progressed faster for the other sections, Ford said. Now the Riverside Cemetery extension will probably happen about the end of the year, he said.

The DOT and the cemetery board must approve final construction plans for the trail there, which will run from the corner of Madison Street to Vineville Branch near Interstates 75 and 16.

The trail would run within the cemetery next to Riverside Drive. Parts of this stretch that are now open to vehicles will be reserved for foot traffic only, said Cecil Coke, president of Riverside Cemetery Inc. The trail originally was envisioned to pass through both Rose Hill and Riverside cemeteries, but Macon City Council, which controls Rose Hill, voted in 2006 not to allow the trail there. Some history buffs and people whose families are buried in Rose Hill objected to encouraging recreation near the graves and voiced fears that vandalism would increase.

Riverside’s board, on the contrary, has been looking forward to the trail since it first was proposed, Coke said.

“I think the trail brings the right kind of people who discourage the bad element,” he said. “We’ve heard positive and negative from people that own lots or have people buried here,” but those who support the trail through the cemetery “understand that the more people we bring in, the more interest there will be in the history and in keeping up the cemetery.”

The river trail is about three miles long now, excluding the spur into the Ocmulgee National Monument, and its popularity has exploded since the first section opened in 2002. Eventually, the trail is envisioned to be at least 22 miles long, extending from Water Works Park to Brown’s Mount.

Bragg Jam, an annual arts and music festival that will host the majority of its events tomorrow, will donate part of its profits to the trail. In past years, the entire event was a trail fundraiser in honor of musicians Brax and Tate Bragg, brothers who died in a car accident in 1999. Last year, Bragg Jam raised about $45,000 for the trail.

This year, the festival is dividing its proceeds among three recipients, including the trail.

Information from The Telegraph’s archives was used in this report. To contact writer S. Heather Duncan, call 744-4225.