Thomasviille's new trail plan brings together transportation, recreation, redevelopment and the city's historic neighborhoods anddowntown. The multi-use trail plan makes parks a focus of the neighborhoods.
Often the impetus for redeveloping a neighborhood comes from the residents who already live there. That’s the story behind’s Thomasville’s ambitious plan to install a trail that connects its historic neighborhoods to its parks and to the city’s downtown.
“When I started with the city about three years ago, many residents in the Victoria Place community came and asked me what could be done about the infrastructure and the environmental blight in the area,” said Thomasville City Planner Lee Chastain, who manages the trail project. “The neighborhood had been isolated from the rest of the community because of the environmental blight. They wanted to see something that would clean up natural blight, encourage area residents to go downtown and encourage visitors to venture across the rail road tracks.”
Subsequently, a group was formed to address the infrastructure, housing, gateways, signage, recreational opportunities and commercial development in the neighborhood. A year later, the Victoria Place Urban Redevelopment Plan was adopted.
Meanwhile city officials were thinking about its aging population.
“An aging population needs certain things so we starting brainstorming with the community about what the city should be providing to its population,” said City Manager Steve Sykes. “Access to parks and walking trails was one of the provisions mentioned.”
City officials soon recognized the transferability of the Victoria Place plan to other historic neighborhoods in the city.
“We have completed the multi-use trail master plan (officially titled the Thomasville Community Landmarks Trail – Master Plan and Recreational Amenity Analysis),” Chastain said. “The plan is to build a $10 million, 14-mile loop for the city in five separate phases.”
The 10-foot wide trail will wind through numerous historic areas of Thomasville. “Each phase of the trail goes through a historic district and connects it with a park,” Chastain explained.
The city worked with consultants and the community to craft a master plan that identifies what historic areas need redevelopment and the specific infrastructure improvements that are required to bring about that redevelopment.
“It identifies where new or refurbished housing is needed, what roads need to be resurfaced and where street lights may need to be added,” Chastain said. “We hope to leverage the public investment in the infrastructure to attract private investment for the new housing and commercial element.”
The trail master plan calls for pedestrian friendly amenities along the trail including benches, garbage receptacles, call boxes, curb ramps and landscape buffers.
The trail will also be an economic driver in underdeveloped areas of the city. The city aligned the trail so that it will spur investment in many areas of the community that hadn’t seen investment in a long time.
“Where the trail connects a park, we assessed the service area of the park,” Chastain said. “Some of the things we looked at in our assessment were the park’s classification, developable lands, the zoning of those developable lands, the demographics of the district and the quality of infrastructure. The intent is to use our redevelopment plans to focus on our parks so the parks become the focus of our neighborhoods.”
The city has received around $300,000 from the Department of Transportation to fund phase one of the trail, which will extend from downtown to the redeveloped Victoria Place neighborhood to the Paradise Park area. Preliminary engineering is already underway; construction is anticipated to start sometime next year.
City officials are excited about a separate plan to install a trailhead where the trail converges downtown. “At the trailhead we will have a 900-seat outdoor amphitheater and an interactive splash ground water fountain,” Chastain said. “It will become a huge focal point for downtown activities.”
While redevelopment and recreation are important targets of the master plan, improving transportation access is also a goal.
“Thomasville is a retirement community,” Chastain pointed out. “In order to address the needs of an aging population we need to begin implementing projects that can provide for an alternative means of transportation. In addition to an aging population we also have a fairly large number of children who need a safe route from their neighborhoods to school and to recreational amenities. By having an off-road, paved trail system to be utilized by pedestrians and cyclists, we can improve safety for both the elderly and the young.”
Chastain also sees the new trail complimenting Thomas County’s plans for a fixed route bus system. Currently, the Thomas County Area Transit Service provides public transportation only on request and requires a 24-hour notification period.
“Where the trail crosses over public streets, it will create opportunities for bus stops,” Chastain said. “The bus system can intermingle with the pedestrian system and really create a robust network.”
If the city had all the necessary funding, the 14-mile trail could be constructed in a year, Chastain said. As the city doesn’t have all the funding it needs it is actively pursuing funds from a variety of state and federal sources.
“We are looking at every program that is out there that could potentially provide funding,” Chastain said. “We anticipate submitting a T.I.G.E. R. (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant application under the federal program; we are also looking at the Department of Natural Resources, Community Development Block Grants and any of the Department of Community Affairs programs.”
City Manager Sykes said the completed master plan will improve Thomasville’s quality of life—a longtime priority for the city council.
According to Sykes, the city annually budgets for quality of life projects including funding matching grants for downtown property owners who want to improve their building facades and park improvements.
“Whether it is the park we keep maintained, implementing a walk or bike trail or helping improve the curb appeal of downtown, the city council has committed and continues to commit to providing a good quality of life,” Sykes said, “and we think that is good for the residents who live here and for those who are considering relocating to our community.”