On a cycling excursion to Stone Mountain on a warm, summer day in 1991, three cycling buddies decided Atlanta needed a more pleasant place to ride. Each of them had experienced the splendor of off-road trails in other cities. The trio decided to pursue the idea of developing greenway trails in Atlanta in time for use during the 1996 Olympics.
Ed McBrayer, Pete Pellegrini, and Maxine Rock formed the PATH Foundation, a 501 (c) 3, nonprofit organization with a mission to develop a system of interlinking greenway trails through metro Atlanta for commuting and recreating.
At about the same time, Sam Friedman and his biking buddies were getting back from a West Coast biking trip where they encountered beautiful off-road trails. They believed Atlanta should have similar amenities and met to discuss how they might play a role in building trails nearer home. The two groups met, and the rest is history. Sam assembled and chaired the PATH Board of Directors, and Ed and Pete became the first two PATH employees.
Building the Organization
Many extraordinary individuals and groups quickly signed on to help PATH grow into an organization capable of completing the task at hand. Atlanta was desperately in need of alternative transportation choices and places for families to walk and bike together. An incredible board of directors was assembled to begin the task of deciding which projects would be built and how they would be funded.
The organization spent three years evaluating the successes and failures of trails in other cities and master planning trails for metro Atlanta. The “PATH Standard” for trail construction was developed and the first demonstration trails were built in southwest Atlanta and near Clarkston in DeKalb County.
In 1995, under the leadership of James C. Kennedy and the PATH Board of Directors, PATH launched its first capital campaign to raise $2.5 million from private sources to match $3.2 million in public funds. This successful campaign enabled PATH to build nine miles of the Stone Mountain-Atlanta Trail, the South Decatur Trolley Trail, the Westside Trail, and the Chastain Park Trail. As part of the campaign, the organization established an $850,000 maintenance endowment to help maintain the trails being built.
The Silver Comet
PATH established a partnership between the State, three counties, four cities and several interest groups in 1998 for the purpose of building a trail between Atlanta and the Alabama state line on the abandoned Seaboard Coastline Railroad owned by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). The GDOT graciously agreed to have the trail on the right-of-way originally purchased for future commuter rail.
PATH established a steering committee for this trail that introduced the name “Silver Comet Trail” and chose the logo. Again under the leadership of Mr. Kennedy and the PATH Board, chaired by Bill Fowler. PATH raised $3.65 million to match over $5 million from public sources. The Silver Comet Trail was the centerpiece of this campaign. By the end of this campaign, 35 miles of the Comet were built and open to the public.
The 21st Century
In 2002, the Board launched a third capital campaign to extend the Silver Comet, build the first phase of the Arabia Mountain Trail, and expand Atlanta’s trail system near Peachtree Battle and Piedmont Park. The 2002 campaign netted $5.7 million to match $15 million from public sources to build over 30 miles of new trails.
PATH completed a 2006 Capital Campaign seeking nine million dollars in private donations to match almost $34 million from public sources to build 50 additional miles of trails. PATH designed and built three segments of the Atlanta BeltLine Trail, a 33-mile loop around the city, as part of this campaign.
PATH maintained a staff of three full time and one part time employee and a strong, dedicated board of directors who guide the activities of the organization. Cox Enterprises (WSB-TV) provides free office space for the staff making PATH one of the best “investments” for donated money anywhere. Over ninety percent of the funds raised from donations are spent building trails.
New opportunities for trails surface almost everyday. PATH typically has twenty to thirty new trail projects on the drawing board that will ultimately connect the region for safe, enjoyable biking and walking. These trails will allow children to walk to school, parents will be able to bike to work, and everyone will have a better quality of life as a result of the trails PATH is building.
In 2012, James C Kennedy chaired a new capital campaign seeking $14.3 Million from private sources to match $25 Million in public funding to build 38 miles of new trails. Notable projects of the 2012 Campaign include a trail along the Georgia 400 corridor and dedicated trails connecting the Atlanta Beltline to Centennial Olympic Park.
The 2016 PATH Capital Campaign sought to connect all of metro Atlanta’s Universities while continuing to build out the greenway trail master plan established over twenty years ago. The centerpiece of the 2016 Capital Campaign is PATH Parkway, a reconfiguration of the Georgia Tech Parkway that provides a landscaped bikeway and sidewalk from West Midtown to Centennial Park.
Under the leadership of Jim Kennedy, the 2016 Capital Campaign raised over $18 million to match $38 million public dollars.
Proctor Creek Greenway between the Bankhead MARTA station and the Grove Park neighborhood in west Atlanta took previously hidden, mostly inaccessible areas and transformed them into tranquil trails alongside Proctor Creek. The first T-SPLOST funded project in Atlanta features not only a trail but green infrastructure to help improve water quality and the overall health of the Proctor Creek corridor. With 6 bridges, several bio-retention ponds and 2.1 miles of trail, Proctor Creek Greenway officially opened on May 7, 2018.
South Peachtree Creek Trail meanders through Mason Mill Park as a boardwalk along the banks of the creek, connecting the ball fields and parking area at Medlock Park to the historic Decatur Waterworks and the Tennis Center at Mason Mill Park. A newly opened phase of this trail safely routes pedestrians and cyclists underneath Clairmont Road. The final section along Clairmont Lakes will allow bike/pedestrian access from scores of neighborhoods directly to the Emory campus.
How PATH and Governments Cooperate
PATH forms partnerships with local governments to build greenway trails. PATH provides a knowledgeable staff to plan, design, build and maintain trail projects. In some cases, PATH provides matching funds to finance the development of trails. Local governments provide access to state and federal funding, rights-of-way for trails, and in-kind services during trail development.