Originally created 07/12/98

Proposed rail trail gets some heavy opposition



SASSER, Ga. -- Residents of this small south Georgia town cherish its slow pace and the close ties that bind them together. So much so that even something as seemingly innocent as a hiking and biking trail can cause an uproar.

Although supporters say the proposed 13 1/2 -mile trail -- to be converted from an abandoned rail line -- will provide families with a safe place to hike, bike and picnic, opponents say the path to Albany will bring illegal hunting, vandalism and higher taxes.

"The concept is great," City Clerk Fae Bryant said. "I just don't want it at my backdoor and I don't think it will help Sasser economically."

The trail is expected to bring hundreds of hikers and bicyclists to this town of 550 people.

In April, about 750 people showed their support by walking some of the trail, but at recent town meetings in Dawson, Leesburg and Sasser, residents objected. They said it will increase crime rates and create problems for farmers, hunters and landowners.

The Sasser trail would be one of 987 nationwide, including five in Georgia, that cover nearly 11,000 miles of abandoned rail lines. They are affiliated with the Washington-based Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, which says there are more than 190 million users a year.

A conservancy study of 125 trails around the country found that 85 percent were met with no public opposition. But Marg Peterson, a Washington consultant who will develop a management plan for the trail, said trails hit obstacles in many communities.

"We encourage people to share their concerns," she said. "The only way it can be a public resource is to have public support."