By Gerhard Schneibel

gerhard@reporternewspapers.net

While the city of Sandy Springs is starting its project to build a 10-to-15-acre park on a 27-acre parcel overlooking Bull Sluice Lake, the Sandy Springs Conservancy is working to build a footbridge across the Chattahoochee River below Morgan Falls Dam and connect Sandy Springs to the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

The project could give Sandy Springs residents access from the city’s planned riverside park to hiking and biking trails in Cobb County, including those at Hyde Farm, Johnson Ferry and Cochran Shoals in the national recreation area.

The Sandy Springs City Council voted Dec. 9 to appropriate $1.7 million to start building the park, which it expects will be complete in fiscal 2010. Meanwhile, the conservancy bridge would connect a 3-acre parcel belonging to Georgia Power just below Morgan Falls Dam to the federal parkland on the Cobb County side of the river.

Sandy Springs leases the 3 acres from Georgia Power, which will donate land for the footprint of the bridge’s eastern pylon to the National Park Service so the bridge project will qualify for federal funding, according to Sandy Springs Conservancy board member Robert Peoples. In this case, federal money can be spent only on projects on federally owned land, he said.

The only current way for park visitors from Sandy Springs to access the national recreation area is to cross the Chattahoochee on Johnson Ferry Road or Roswell Road.

Peoples and Sandy Springs Conservancy Executive Director Linda Bain said their organization has spent 10 years working to realize its plan, and it hopes a collaborative effort with Sandy Springs and the National Park Service will be possible.

“We like to think it’s going to be one,” Peoples said.

Blake Dettwiler, the city’s assistant director of land development, said the entire area will likely become a “hub” for recreation because the current Morgan Falls athletic facility is not far from the planned park and bridge.

“I think we’re still in the planning stage, certainly, with a lot of this,” he said, adding, “It’s certainly going to offer quite a few opportunities, regardless of what your interest is.”

“It’s a unique site,” Bain said. “It’s going to be a real attraction.”

Daniel Brown, National Park Service superintendent of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, said the bridge will enable Sandy Springs residents to “access with just a short walk hundreds of acres that the National Park Service maintains on the west side of the river.”

“I personally think any time you can combine or connect public lands — be they federal lands, locally owned city park property, state park property, whatever — it kind of expands opportunities and turns smaller park areas into bigger park areas, just by connecting them,” Brown said.

The bridge itself would cost about $1.2 million, he said, and more would be spent to connect it to the national recreation area’s trail system. The conservancy will soon select a contractor to conduct an environmental assessment for the project.

Civic engagement will be important to the process of creating a plan for the bridge as well as the entire park area, Brown said. “One alternative is always a no-action. We will hold public meetings, and we’ll be looking for input from the public to help us develop the alternatives.”