A group of people is shown biking on a paved trail that passes by a group of cows.

Carrolton GreenBelt at Ayers Dairy Farm

Credit: PATH Foundation

Advocates for a bike and pedestrian trail linking Athens and Savannah have unveiled detailed plans for the project.

Trail backers say the 211-mile trail would be the longest paved trail in America.

It's called the Hi-Lo Trail, since it would include a variety of terrains from Georgia's hilly piedmont region to the flat coast.

And its supporters are partnering with a familiar name in Georgia trail-building, the PATH Foundation, to kick-start it.

Atlanta-based PATH operates more 300 miles of popular trails around Metro Atlanta and elsewhere in Georgia. The organization prepared a nearly 200-page report showing how the Hi-Lo Trail could be built over the next 25 years.

Hi-Lo Trail founder Mary Charles Howard, a resident of Sandersville, said rural Georgians are missing out on the health and economic benefits of car-free trails.

"People just aren't riding their bikes in those towns because there's no infrastructure for it and it's not safe to be on the road," Howard said. "And I thought lots of other people had this frustration as well and I'm too stubborn to stick around and wait for somebody else to do it."

PATH's report includes possible routes, cost estimates and funding sources for each of the eight counties the trail would pass through: Greene, Hancock, Washington, Johnson, Emanuel, Bulloch, Effingham and Chatham.

It would connect to Athens via the planned Firefly Trail in Athens-Clarke County.

PATH executive director Greta deMayo said the first step in the multi-decade plan is to get each jurisdiction to build a model project.

"You can't build 211 miles as one project," deMayo said. "So this is a long-term implementation that is segmented into phases and will be done with everybody starting their part."

PATH has experience with this kind of approach.

It describes its Silver Comet Trail, beginning in Smyrna, northeast of Atlanta, as the current record-holder for the longest, continuous paved trail in the United States, at 94 miles when coupled with the 33-mile Chief Ladiga Trail in Alabama.

That project took 16 years from the time that an abandoned rail corridor was acquired for a non-motorized trail until the trail's final completion in 2008.

Howard encourages cyclists interested in experiencing the potential of the HiLo Trail to sign up for an Athens-to-Savannah ride from Oct. 17 to Oct. 20, 2024.