Land once overgrown and not easily able to be traveled now stands as Polk County’s welcome mat for those who find themselves wanting to explore one of the southeast’s premiere hiking trails.
After years of planning, design, and finding funding, county officials joined other community leaders and hiking enthusiasts Saturday morning for the grand opening of the Potts Hollow Trailhead.
The area provides the public with a safe place to park their vehicles or horse trailers off of Cave Spring Road north of Cedartown to then have access to the nearby Pinhoti Trail, a 339-mile long hiking trail that connects with the Appalachian Trail’s southern terminus in Northeast Georgia and runs southwest into East Alabama.
The trailhead’s completion was celebrated Saturday as a collaborative effort among many entities, including the Polk County government, The Conservation Fund and Keep Polk Beautiful.
“What started out as ideas on an 8-and-a-half by 11 sheet of paper in our county manager’s office has turned into what you see today,” County Commissioner Scotty Tillery said during Saturday’s ceremony. “This has been a special project to Polk County and its cities. It’s just a little taste of what we have planned for the future.”
A matching grant from the W.D. Trippe Foundation provided funding for the trailhead, and the county was able to complete the trailhead mostly in-house through the county’s public works department and other county employees.
“We’ve got some big dreams for this area. And it wouldn’t be possible without the Polk County Board of Commissioners and the work of all our county employees,” Tillery said.
Prior to the trailhead’s completion hikers on the Pinhoti Trail parked on the sides of Cave Spring Road in order to gain access to the trail. In the fall of 2021, representatives of Polk County approached The Conservation Fund to see if there was a mutual interest in building a new trailhead for the Pinhoti Trail. The environmental nonprofit then allocated a portion of land to Polk County in order for the Potts Hollow Trailhead to be developed.
The Conservation Fund’s mission, according to its website, is to protect America’s most critical lands and waters to provide greater access to nature, strengthen local economies and enhance climate resiliency.
Michael Leonard, a senior advisor for The Conservation Fund, spoke during the ceremony and recalled coming to Cedartown in the late 1980s and searching the county’s tax maps to find who owned the land where the Pinhoti was.
The six tracts in Polk County that he found and were purchased by The Conservation Fund included 7.7 miles of the trail, known as the Santa Claus Tract for its proximity to Santa Claus Mountain.
“When I come to a place like this after all of these years working to get to this point, and I see all of the local people here excited about it, that means more to me than the protection of this land,” Leonard said.
Keep Polk Beautiful Executive Director Randy Cook said he was thrilled with the number of people who came out for the ceremony. He and his son, Jesse Cook, helped clear the access trail from the trailhead to the Pinhoti Trail after Polk County Public Works crews made a pass with heavy machinery.
Keep Polk Beautiful offered free guided hikes along a three-mile section of the trail following the ceremony, with shuttle service provided by The Cook Farm.
While Saturday was the official grand opening of the trailhead, the space has been cleared and available to use by the public for over two months.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people have already come in from out of town and are already using this,” Randy Cook said. “This is big for Polk County.”
Those in attendance at Saturday’s ceremony proved the new area is a big deal for more than just Polk County as the crowd included representatives from Pinhoti Trail groups and city officials from Cave Spring.
Cave Spring is located just a few miles north of the trailhead in Floyd County and has promoted its connection with the Pinhoti Trail. It was named Georgia’s first Pinhoti Trail Town last year.
In Georgia, the Pinhoti is a destination for hikers, backpackers, horse riders, and mountain bikers. About 10 miles of the trail run through Polk County, from the Floyd County line to the Alabama state line. The trailhead, named for the Potts family that once owned the land it is located on, includes picnic tables, camp grills, trash cans and a large graded area for horse trailers.
Last month, Polk County Commissioners approved a proposal to partner with The Conservation Fund on an application for the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program Grant to fund the purchase and development of the property adjacent to the trailhead to expand local opportunities for hiking and recreation.
Credit: Rome News-Tribune
Credit: Rome News-Tribune
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