Let’s Hike: North Oconee River Greenway Trail
As much as I love the photos of Looking Glass Falls crystallized with ice, that’s not the time I want to go hiking in Pisgah! A new place I’ve discovered is the North Oconee River Greenway Trail in Athens, Ga.
The Athens-Clarke Unified Government devised the network of riverside and park trails that span for miles, beginning north of Athens along Highway 441 and ending south of the University of Georgia campus.
Coming from Greenville by way of Commerce, Ga., along Highway 441, the first part of the trail system a visitor will see is the Sandy Creek Nature Center. This education center is comprised of 225 acres of woodlands and wetlands and four miles of trails (some of which were closed on my visit). The Education and Visitor Center features live reptiles and amphibians, along with freshwater aquariums and natural history exhibits. The adjacent Sandy Creek Park is even larger, 782 acres, including Lake Chapman. Admission to the park is $2 each. Amenities include swimming, boating and paddle boarding.
Drivers turn right into Sandy Creek Nature Center by the sign, but the majority of the acre park is actually across the highway, extending north. There is a .2-mile wheelchair accessible nature trail boardwalk. Ponds, an old log cabin and collapsed chimney remains are some of the features on the various trails. Visitors are advised to look for different wildlife on the different trails. Some of the wildlife in the park include deer, wild turkeys, salamanders and herons – sometimes even river otters.
The area of the Greenway I explored on my last visit was Dudley Park, which is adjacent to Downtown Athens. (A word about Athens: if you’re about my age, you’ll remember the town of funky restaurants and quirky shops. Sadly, this is a city of the past. Now visitors will find mostly chain restaurants. Only a handful of the most stalwart independent businesses remain, like Wuxtry Records and the 40 Watt Club.)
Like Greenville, Athens developed along the river as a mill town. An abundance of informational placards share tidbits of the local history along the parking lot edge.
My walk continued down by the river and under a large train trestle. One of the coolest spots was a grassy area interspersed with boulders (i.e., kid heaven). Up on the hill, there was an enormous sculpture of brightly colored flowers. The leaves acted as sun shades over the benches below.
Another trail features a large train trestle: the Firefly Trail. Just recently in October 2019, the Athens-Clarke Unified Government proposed expansion of the Firefly Trail, which runs predominantly over an old railroad bed. The extension will continue the trail to the town of Winterville, and the completed trail will span a total of 39 miles.
In addition to Dudley Park, there are 20 acres of parks along the Oconee River.
More information about trails can be found online at accgov.com. I also picked up a great color map at Dudley Park which shows the full trail system throughout Athens.