This article appears in the September issue of 400 Life Magazine.
Forsyth County is renowned for not only its closeness to the city of Atlanta but also the area’s natural resources and various ways to enjoy them.
But perhaps no other amenity in the county combines live, work and play quite like the Big Creek Greenway.
The Greenway is an 11-mile-long concrete and boardwalk path system through south and central Forsyth along the namesake Big Creek Greenway and one of the county’s most popular outdoor amenities for walkers, runners and bikers.
“It is about conservation, recreation, environmental education and alternative transportation,” said Laura Pate, deputy director of administration and recreation for the Forsyth County Parks and Recreation Department. “Our greenway is an investment for our community and environment. It helps to protect our watershed and preserve natural areas for people, plants and animals.”
Pate and some other locals answered a few questions about what made the Greenway so popular and what users need to know.
Story continues below.
Where do I get started?
There are four trailheads where users can access the trail.
• 5120 Bethelview Road
• 4110 Carolene Way
• 5259 Union Hill Road
• 6265 Cortland Walk (Halcyon)
The Greenway is open from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., March through October and 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., November through February.
What’s the history?
Pate said county officials began planning the Big Creek Greenway in the early 2000s “as part of a goal to protect the natural, historic and scenic qualities of Forsyth County.”
“The project was the first of its kind in our county and while it took many years of planning, acquiring land and finally the construction, what we have now is a treasured gem that stretches 11 miles and counting,” she said.
The first four phases of construction brought the Greenway from McFarland Road to Kelly Mill Road, and in 2019, a trailhead opened at Halcyon, a local mixed-use development featuring restaurants, shops and more.
Story continues below.
There are plans in place to expand the Greenway both north and south.
Currently, there are a pair of plans being worked on that will eventually connect the Greenway to Sawnee Mountain.
Part of the project, expected to be completed this fall, will build a new section of the Greenway from Spot Road Connector/Hwy. 20 to the Sawnee Mountain Preserve Visitor Center, while another section, from Kelly Mill Road to Hwy. 20, will be completed next year, bringing the Greenway’s future length of 15 miles.
“In the future, the county plans to connect the two sections of Phase 5 as part of the GDOT Hwy. 20 road-widening project,” Pate said. “An additional trailhead is currently being designed that will be located at 1605 Canton Hwy., across from Sawnee Elementary School. This trailhead is expected to be open in 2021.”
Likewise, there are plans to connect the Forsyth Greenway to Alpharetta’s Big Creek Greenway as part of a widening project on McGinnis Ferry Road.
Who else is out there?
For the last six years, Jeffrey Gelinas has moderated Friends of the Forsyth County Greenway, a Facebook group where members share information, ask questions and let others know about changes to the Greenway, such as sections being closed due for repairs.
“Kind people also post pictures of things they have found that may have been lost by somebody,” Gelinas said. “If someone knows of a dangerous area, where a tree has come down, etc., it is usually posted pretty quickly.”
Story continues below.
What will I see out there?
Walking through the county’s natural resources is a great chance to see local flora and fauna, with informational markers about animals and trees placed along the path.
“Common posts are of wildlife, as the Big Creek flood plain is a very rich natural environment,” Gelinas said of some of the group’s popular posts. “Snakes, turtles, birds, deer, insects and plants, as well as some pretty shots of the Greenway at different times of the day and year.”
What do local businesses think?
Even businesses have gotten involved with the Big Creek Greenway, including Geaux Bikes, a service where guests can rent bikes using their cell phones, and an entrance at Halcyon, the southernmost trailhead on the Greenway.
“We certainly see the Greenway as an economic development tool,” said Laura Stewart, vice president of community engagement for the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. “We hear many positive comments from businesses who are especially positioned to take advantage of the Greenway. A great example of this is Halcyon, where from the very first plans the intention of connecting to the Greenway was already there.
“The Forward Forsyth team leverages the Greenway and other assets like Sawnee Mountain in many economic development marketing efforts, particularly in marketing to those in the tech/start-up space.”