David Spencer goes walking along the Augusta Canal three times a week for the fresh air and the company.
The lush scenery doesn’t hurt, either.
Spencer, who lives in Evans, is part of a local group that meets at the canal’s headgates near the Savannah Rapids Pavilion to walk a section of the towpath designated for pedestrians and cyclists.
“The view of the river is amazing,” Spencer said. “We always walk at sunset.”
The walking path winds alongside the canal for 3.5 miles to the Augusta pumping station, providing scenic sights along the way for nature enthusiasts. The trail extends for about another 3.5 miles to 13th Street.
Currently under way is a project to add 1,800 feet of concrete trail behind Sibley and King mills and two bridges connecting the tailrace areas. Work on the $1.2 million project began earlier this year and should conclude by July.
The canal’s towpath is just one of several walking trails throughout the area that attract walkers, runners, hikers and cyclists. Spring arrived Wednesday, so popular tracks in the area are expected to soon become busier.
“Generally it seems as though the cold and the oppressive heat turn people off, so this is the perfect time of year,” said Dave Kozlowski, president of the CSRA chapter of SORBA, or the Southern Off-Road Bicycle Association.
Mountain bikers looking for a challenge flock to the Forks Area Trail System in Sumter National Forest, which has six loops spanning 37 miles, Kozlowski said.
Kozlowski recommends beginners of the sport start out riding more level trails, such as the canal’s towpath or Bartram Trail at Thurmond Lake.
The 15-mile Bartram Trail begins at West Dam park and continues along Lake Spring Road, the Petersburg campground and ends at Wildwood Park, where a new trailhead was completed three months ago.
While about 150 miles of biking trails exist throughout the Augusta area, many people remain unaware of the boundless outdoor opportunities easily accessible to them, Kozlowski said.
“It’s not really a secret, but it seems to be a well-known kept fact,” he said.
The Greeneway in North Augusta is also well-traversed by cyclists, walkers and runners.
In February, about 22,800 people used the Greeneway, said Rick Meyer, the director of North Augusta Parks, Recreation and Leisure Services.
Meyer estimates that number will climb by 15 percent in through May as warmer weather begins to set in.
The Greeneway provides a 7-mile stretch of paved pathways that meander alongside an abandoned railway into wooded areas and neighborhoods, with views of the Savannah River.
“Even in the summer, it’s never unbearable to be on the Greeneway with the coverage you have from the trees,” Meyer said.
Local residents, including Betsy Henderson, of Augusta, like coming to the Greeneway a couple times each week. She walks and jogs for about 4 miles on the trail.
“I feel likes it’s safe,” said Betsy Henderson as she was getting ready for a morning jog. “It’s peaceful.”
On the opposite side of the river, Augusta’s downtown Riverwalk is frequented by walkers and others enjoying the outdoors.
In south Augusta, the historic Lombard Mill Pond Trail starts at a trailhead on Old Highway 1 and runs along a floodplain near Deans Bridge Road. The scenic trail by Butler Creek overlooks the ruins of Lombard Pond, once home to a 19th century grist mill and granary.
Plans for the site include building bridges and boardwalks and creating a network of trails from Fort Gordon to Phinizy Swamp and the Savannah River.
In Columbia County, the Euchee Creek trails that start in the Canterbury subdivision off Chamblin Road should be extended within the next year, said county Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith. In the design phase is a 2-mile connector trail to wind behind the Creek Bend and Indian Springs neighborhoods, linking with Grovetown city trails, Smith said.
“We want to have it as natural as possible,” said Smith, using the Greeneway as an example of the end result.
Another top-ranked county pathway, Smith said, is the one that parallels Evans to Locks Road to the canal’s headgates.
Other local trails that offer options for both exercise and nature watching are Hitchcock Woods in Aiken County, Phinizy Swamp Nature Park off Lock and Dam Road near Augusta Regional Airport and Reed Creek Nature Park and Interpretive Center in Evans.
Mistletoe State Park, near Thurmond Lake in Appling, also offers eight trails ranging in distance from less than a mile to more than 6 miles.