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River study proposes links between midstate attractions

If a place is in Middle Georgia, there’s a good chance a river runs through it.

A new study suggests some of the river assets -- from canoe landings to trails -- could be linked fairly easily to create an entire recreational system.

Bob Rychel, manager of planning programs for the Middle Georgia Regional Commission, said boat ramps and multi-use paths along the rivers are relatively inexpensive but benefit communities, recreation and quality of life.

“We think that it’s worth investing in, and I think a lot of communities do as well,” said Rychel, who led the two-year study. “They think, ‘Hey, we can do a lot on the river for a relatively low cost.’ ”

The first part of the two-phase, $70,000 study identified assets and opportunities. The new part of the Multi-Region River Corridor Feasibility Study suggests ways to tie the elements together.

Rychel said one thing that’s missing is a regional champion that could coordinate efforts among communities. That could be as simple as having local-level groups meet once or twice a year to share ideas, an idea Rychel is pitching to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“In a lot of ways, implementation is taking place,” Rychel said, citing things like the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail in Macon and the Oconee River Greenway that started in Milledgeville. “There are pockets of implementation occurring around the region, but we’d like to see everybody be aware of what’s going on.”

Among the areas identified in the river study are a National Park Service study of whether the Ocmulgee National Monument property should be expanded. That could tie into a proposed National Park and Preserve, which would connect 50 miles of the Ocmulgee River from Macon to Hawkinsville.

Existing public properties include the Ocmulgee National Monument, Bond Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Robins Air Force Base and the Ocmulgee and Oaky Woods wildlife management areas.

Rychel said some communities already are working together, such as collaboration between Bleckley, Houston, Pulaski and Twiggs counties in the Ocmulgee River Blueway, a 54-mile corridor.

Rychel said he’d like to see such groups working together for even bigger-picture planning.

Mike Ford, CEO of NewTown Macon, said his organization continues efforts to lengthen the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, a multi-use path that follows the river. Ford said he’s also excited about other efforts to tie together other systems, such as a proposed connecting path from the Oconee River Greenway in Milledgeville along a former railroad line to connect to Macon’s Ocmulgee Heritage Trail.

“That’s a project we’d love to see. That would be phenomenal, to be able to hop on a bike in Milledgeville to the (Indian) mounds, for example,” Ford said.

Ford said multiple ways of getting to the river bring more benefits. Some people will canoe or ride tubes from Popes Ferry in Monroe County to Amerson River Park, renamed in April from Amerson Water Works Park. That’s a long trip for many.

NewTown Macon is planning a relatively inexpensive fix.

It’s getting ready to build a new take-out point on the south side of Amerson River Park that would let people just float around the oxbow the park is on. They’d be able to walk back to their car.

“It gives you the ability to do an hour or two trip, and you don’t have to set aside a whole day or anything,” Ford said.

Both phases of the study are available at tinyurl.com/middlegeorgiarivers online.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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