By Amy Wenk

amywenk@reporternewspapers.net

A proposed bicycle/pedestrian bridge across the Chattahoochee River is gaining support in the community, said Dan Brown, the superintendent for the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area.

The crossing would connect the planned Morgan Falls River Park in Sandy Springs with National Park Service property, including the newly acquired Hyde farm, in Cobb County. The community has discussed the idea for more than 10 years.

After the April 30 meeting at the Chattahoochee Nature Center in Roswell, the public submitted 56 comments by May 11, Brown said.

Of those who specified a preference for or against a bridge and connecting trails, 34, or about 71 percent, were in favor; 14 (29 percent) were opposed to a bridge; and eight had no preference. Of the 34 comments in favor, 26 supported bicycle access, four a pedestrian-only bridge and foot trails, and four did not specify a preference for multiuse or pedestrian-only access.

“The meeting was the first step in the environmental assessment process,” Brown said. “It was a scoping meeting where we were inviting public input to help us develop alternatives that could be considered in the environmental assessment.”

Funded by the Sandy Springs Conservancy, the assessment will help determine where the bridge and trails should go. The National Park Service will design, build, own and maintain the bridge. Civil engineering firm Jordan, Jones & Goulding was contracted to do the assessment.

Sandy Springs leaders were early advocates of the bridge, and in 2003 the conservancy funded a concept design and feasibility report. The estimated $1.2 million bridge would give city residents access to acres of parks in Cobb County.

It would be a chance for Sandy Springs, which Brown said “is almost entirely built out,” to gain valuable green space and recreational opportunities.

The April 30 meeting drew offended cyclists, river conservationists, eager government leaders and concerned residents from both sides of the water.

“My overall impression of the meeting was positive,” said Dist. 5 Sandy Springs City Councilman Tibby DeJulio. “There was a lot of discussion on both sides, but that’s what’s needed. Both sides need to get out there to express their opinions so that the Park Service can go ahead and make a decision of what they feel is best.”

One speaker was Cobb resident Roger Buerki, who fears greater accessibility will damage natural resources.

“It looks like it’s a one-way project,” he said. “There are not too many people who will want to visit the park in Sandy Springs.”

Buerki added he is leery of Sandy Springs, citing the clear-cutting at Morgan Falls Overlook Park last fall. The city cleared bamboo and wisteria from part of the 27-acre parcel, violating a 25-foot shoreline buffer the Georgia Environmental Protection Division requires.

“There’s no shortage of bamboo or wisteria; it’s already regrowing there,” said DeJulio, pointing out the bridge will connect to Morgan Falls River Park, not Overlook Park. “It was not clear-cut, as they said, because we did not take the roots out. There were no trees on the property because all the trees had all been killed by the bamboo and the wisteria.”

DeJulio said a re-vegetation plan includes adding more than 2,400 native Georgia plants to the site.

Sally Bethea, the executive director of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper, echoed Buerki.

“We haven’t talked much about the river,” she said. Bethea said she worries “poor stewardship by Sandy Springs” in the past will translate into problems for the Chattahoochee in the future.

DeJulio said, “We will do whatever is necessary to protect the river and to make that a park that everybody can proud of, that everybody can utilize.”

But “one of the issues that has come up most … is about bicycles,” Brown said.

Some people are concerned about allowing bicyclists on the bridge and trails.

One speaker said mountain bikers disregard official paths and wreck havoc through woodlands. Many avid cyclists attended the meeting to defend the sport.

Marietta resident Brian Berg, who belongs to organizations including the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association (SORBA), said: “To classify all mountain bikers as people who are going to ride their bikes on unofficial trails or abuse the area would be an inaccurate stereotype. I’m a mountain biker, and I do not do that.”

Brown said the comment period has been extended to May 27.

“We look forward to having the public involved in this process,” he said.

Comments are accepted by mail (Superintendent, Chattahoochee River NRA, 1978 Island Ford Pkwy., Atlanta, Ga. 30350), e-mail (chat_superintendent@nps.gov) and the Web (parkplanning.nps.gov).

A second public meeting will be held in the fall to review proposed options.