New Walnut Creek Bridge

This pedestrian bridge marks the first of many to be replaced as part of Elachee’s ongoing upkeep of the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve trails.

If you hiked in Chicopee Woods this summer and early fall, you likely saw piles of new lumber and wooden debris along the trails. Among recent updates to the hiking trail system is a newly constructed pedestrian bridge across Walnut Creek. This 35-foot bridge, along the Bridge Loop, replaced a 15-year-old structure that was showing visible signs of stress due to age, wear and pressure from forceful stream flow. Volunteers carried lumber to the construction site, staging it along the way, then reversed the process to remove the old bridge debris from the Nature Preserve. Elachee Nature Science Center trail crew volunteers pleased the new Walnut Creek Bridge is now open to hikers on the Bridge Loop in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.

Integral Part of the Trails

Some 65,000 hikers and joggers travel across this Walnut Creek Bridge each year. This pedestrian access point is vital to the hiking trail system. However, earlier this year Elachee’s Natural Resources Manager, Lee Irminger, elevated priority to replace it. Thanks to a significant grant from REI Co-op along with a generous ‘gap’ donation from an avid Chicopee Woods hiker, bridge replacement and new construction began in June.

Walnut Creek Bridge represents an incredibly important asset for this trail system. Elachee’s Volunteer Trail Crew had conducted consistent and ongoing maintenance throughout the last 15 years on the old bridge to extend its lifespan and mitigate deterioration from use, age and the elements. Consequently, the impacts of higher than average rainfall amount and related watershed runoff in the Nature Preserve from late 2018 through early 2019 made the Walnut Creek Bridge replacement an urgent preserve management priority.

Bridge Replacement Necessary

It was in 2004 that volunteers began to construct pedestrian bridges along the hiking trails in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve. Prior to this time, crossing the Nature Preserve’s waterways involved fording streams that contributed to stream bank erosion and degradation. Today, 35 of these bridges now cross streams, low-lying areas and span gullies.

Maintaining the health of the Chicopee Woods hiking trail system has regional impact and relevancy to the surrounding northeast Georgia communities – many of which are among the fastest growing cities/towns in the state. Having this natural resource available to residents is an economic development benefit and priority for healthy live, work and play recruitment incentives. Once individuals visit and enjoy this invaluable green space, they become invested in joining forces with others to protect it. These hiking trails are open daily to the public from 7 a.m. to dark. PLAN YOUR VISIT

“The bridge helps people view a wilderness area in the middle of an urban sprawl,” says Trail Crew Volunteer Dave Mc Carroll of the newly finished structure.

Volunteers Make It Happen

Elachee has a rich tradition of collaborating with its devoted community partners and volunteer corps to build, maintain and ensure a sustainable legacy for current and future generations to enjoy. Of note, volunteers have constructed 34 of the 35 pedestrian bridges along the Nature Preserve’s 8-mile hiking trail system; Walnut Creek Bridge I and II included. The new Walnut Creek Bridge was constructed alongside the old structure ensuring seamless access for pedestrian traffic along the 8-mile hiking system in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve, in south Hall County, Ga.

Elachee utilized the services of its Weekly Volunteer Trail Crew on this bridge replacement project. The Trail Crew has extensive, hands-on knowledge of these hiking trails and conservation methods deployed within the Nature Preserve.

Joining their efforts, other community partners including ZF Gainesville LLC fielded volunteer teams to help with the project. These groups also routinely participate in other preserve maintenance and conservation projects, and like the weekly Trail Crew, they hit the ground running versus requiring significant training for their efforts.

Staging was an Organizational Feat

Volunteers from ZF Gainesville LLC joined Elachee's volunteer trail crew to help remove debris from the old Walnut Creek Bridge out of Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.The Walnut Creek Bridge project was logistically complex. Walnut Creek Bridge is approximately a half mile into the Nature Preserve via the hiking trail system. Getting materials in and out of the preserve required a staging plan: two parts vehicle assistance and one part people power. 

New lumber had to be loaded into the bed of a pick-up truck to transport it part of the way. Then, volunteers unloaded and reloaded the lumber into the bed of a 6-wheel ATV which took the materials to within one-tenth of a mile from the construction site. The trail crew then teamed-up to hand-carry each 16-foot board the final leg along the trails. A contractor worked to demolish the old bridge and construct the new bridge. 

“Thanks to Lee and an amazing trail crew, the challenge of moving those very heavy timbers down the trail was met. It was teamwork at its finest!” declares Trail Crew Volunteer Julia Johnson.

Additional volunteers from ZF Gainesville LLC worked alongside the Trail Crew to haul the old bridge debris out of the Nature Preserve, reversing the process of hand carrying, loading and unloading. In other words, A LOT OF WORK from start to finish. Yet, the benefits outweigh the buckets of sweat from these dedicated individuals. Along with the updated trail signage and mileage markers, hikers who have not been on the Chicopee Woods hiking trails in recent months are in for a treat. READ BLOG: Elachee Trail Blazers

Timeline for Other Bridge Replacements?

The estimated total price tag to replace and/or undergo significant maintenance on other bridges in Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve is exceeds $65,000. Elachee Nature Science Center will continue to seek grant funding, as well as appeal to its support base (Elachee donors, nature lovers and individuals who utilize the hiking trail system) and the general public for donations in coming months.

To make a one-time or recurring donation to Elachee Nature Science Center to support this pedestrian bridge project, call 770-535-1976 x226, send an EMAIL or DONATE NOW.

If your business or group (age 18 and up) is interested in scheduling a Nature Preserve work day, please learn more about VOLUNTEERING AT ELACHEE.