Originally created 06/30/03

Officials work to revive scenic Woodpecker Trail



FOLKSTON, Ga. - Before interstates were built, motorists en route to Florida's Gulf Coast drove on a two-lane highway called the Woodpecker Trail through Georgia towns such as Metter, Hoboken and Folkston. Interstate 95 changed all that, and the Woodpecker Trail became a distant memory.

But not everyone has forgotten the Woodpecker Trail, which was established in the 1920s as the main route from Charlotte, N.C., to St. Petersburg, Fla., said Rich Harrill, a senior business associate at Georgia Tech's Tourism and Regional Assistance Centers.

People, especially baby boomers, are tired of heavy traffic and boring drives on the interstates, and are seeking alternate ways to get to their destinations, Mr. Harrill said.

One alternative might become a reality within the next year. Regional tourism and elected officials are working to revive the designation to Georgia Highway 121 as the Woodpecker Trail and give motorists an alternate route that will take them by farms, swamps, Civil War sites and places to fish, hunt and camp.

They've already persuaded the Georgia Senate to pass a resolution for the Department of Transportation to help re-establish the trail, said Billy Trapnell, the mayor of Metter.

Before the scenic route becomes official, there's still some work to do, Mr. Trapnell said.

Organizers are negotiating with Universal Studios to use Woody Woodpecker as the highway mascot, he said. The cartoon character's likeness was used beginning in the late 1950s on all the route's signs, Mr. Trapnell said.

Universal Studios has been "most receptive" to granting permission to use the cartoon character on highway signs along the trail, he said. Once an agreement is signed, which could be within two or three months, Mr. Trapnell said, it's simply a matter of getting the General Assembly to designate the highway as the Woodpecker Trail, then getting DOT officials to design the highway signs and post them along the route.

"We want to get this done as expeditiously as possible," Mr. Trapnell said. "There's still a lot of people who remember Woody Woodpecker."

DOT spokesman Bert Brantley said a resolution officially designating the highway as a scenic route will have to be signed into law before the signs are developed and posted.

But until a law is signed creating the route, Mr. Brantley said, it's difficult to determine what the DOT's role will be. The trail is "conceivably one of the longest named roads in the state," Mr. Brantley said, so it could take the DOT longer to post the signs.

Once the trail is officially established, Mr. Trapnell said, he and other supporters will make brochures outlining the route and the attractions people will see along the way. Those brochures will be available at rest areas and other locations.

State tourism officials have been working with supporters of the trail the past year to make the project a reality, said Kitty Sikes, a regional tourism representative for the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Ms. Sikes said organizers are seeking grants to market the trail, and improve and develop tourist attractions along the route.

"It's very, very scenic," she said. "It's a beautiful drive."

Folkston Mayor Dixie McGurn, who is serving on a nonprofit board to establish the trail, said she believes motorists will use the route and stop at area attractions along the way.

"These little communities have so much to offer," Ms. McGurn said. "It's a more comfortable ride. There's no time lost on the route, and it gets them off the beaten path."