• September 2009: Phases two and three opened, including Bethelview Road trailhead.
• December 2009: Phase one opened, along with McFarland Parkway trailhead.
• February 2010: Commissioners approved a route for the fourth and fifth phases. The greenway won an award for excellence in engineering from the Georgia Engineering Alliance.
• May 2010: A string of vehicle break-ins at greenway trailheads ended with the arrest of two suspects.
• July 2010: Commissioners approved an agreement with a contractor to dredge an area of Big Creek, mitigating flooding. The Forsyth County Arts Alliance awarded the county a $10,000 grant for mixed-media art and educational displays on the trail.
• September 2010: The Abba House Run for Recovery 10K was the first organized race on the trail.
Bike tires crunch the fallen autumn leaves. The waters of Big Creek trickle downstream under bridges. Footsteps tap in rhythm along the wooden boardwalks.
Tony Mercado and his wife, Margaret, are all too familiar with the sights and sounds of Forsyth County's Big Creek Greenway, which recently marked its first anniversary.
The couple has ridden the 6.8-mile trail on their bicycles five times a week since March.
"We're averaging 72 miles a week," said Tony Mercado as he took a short break on a recent afternoon at the Bethelview Road trailhead.
The Forsyth County couple said they hadn't ridden bikes since childhood, but then they saw the greenway as a community opportunity to get active.
Since then, together they've lost nearly 40 pounds.
"Instead of doing the boring cross-trainer at home, we got ourselves bikes and decided to ride [them] five days a week," he said. "It's worked."
While not everyone can trek that frequently down the county's southeastern trail, the greenway has rarely been empty since opening a little more than a year ago.
"It has been very well-received," said Tommy Bruce, assistant director of the county's parks and recreation department. "We get calls all the time of people telling how much they like it."
The second and third phases of the greenway, which run between Union Hill and Bethelview roads, opened in September 2009.
Phase one followed in December 2009, extending the trail south to McFarland Parkway.
The fourth and fifth phases are being developed to extend the path north to the Sawnee Mountain Preserve, lengthening the trail to a total of about 14 miles.
"[Trail users] are excited about expanding it, especially the bike riders," Bruce said. "They're really looking forward to getting the extra miles in."
Construction on the final two phases could start next summer, said Tim Allen, the county's assistant director of engineering.
The new pathways could be open for use as early as summer 2012 or as late as sometime in 2013, Allen said, depending on right-of-way acquisition and how county commissioners want to move forward.
"The path has been selected at this point," he said. "They'll just give us marching orders."
The final phases will run alongside Kelly Mill Road to Johnson Road and across Hwy. 20 beside Dr. Bramblett and Spot roads, before ending at the Sawnee Mountain Preserve.
Both concrete and wooden boardwalk make up the 12-foot wide pathway, which at present primarily runs alongside Big Creek.
Users can park at either the McFarland trailhead or the recently expanded parking area at the Bethelview trailhead, which Bruce said soon will have restrooms and a small picnic shelter.
Another expansion of the greenway will link it to a new parking area and trailhead at Fowler Park, which is anticipated to open in January.
"[People] can park there, about the middle of the greenway, and walk either way," Bruce said.
While other county parks have walking areas or nature trails, Bruce said there's something special about the greenway that has made it so popular.
"You get closer to nature with it. You're not in an active setting," he said. "With the greenway, you can have a little quiet time."
The parks and recreation department maintains the trail, with a little help from greenway users who call about fallen trees or other issues.
One of the greatest challenges in the greenway's first year was flooding from the Big Creek watershed. An unusually soggy fall and winter at times left sections impassible due to water or unsafe conditions.
The county hopes to mitigate some of the flooding in a deal worked out with a contractor who will dredge the area for use of the sand.
In return, the Big Creek watershed will be able to hold more water before flooding the trail.
Since heavy rains haven't hit the area in recent months, Bruce said the county hasn't been able to determine what difference the dredging has made, but it should help.
The greenway will also get some new signs in addition to the current color-coded, one-tenth mile markers.
Northside Hospital will be putting nutrition signs along the trail, Bruce said. These will provide information about how much exercise it takes to burn off calories from different foods.
The Mercados may whiz past them on their bikes someday, though they likely won't need to give their exercise regimen a second thought. They've got it covered.