Trailblazers

The Newton Trails organization has spearheaded efforts to pave the way to a more connected community in Newton County.

by Abby Taylor

If you drive by Mayfield Ace Hardware on a Wednesday morning, you may see Newton Trails Board Chair Greg Richardson and a group of community members gathering, a sense of excitement in the air as they embark on their next hiking adventure. Perhaps you have encountered Richardson and a group of cyclists exploring local trails on a Sunday morning. Next time you walk the trails near Eastside High School, you might see Jill McGiboney cleaning up, making sure the path is beautiful and safe. Richardson, McGiboney and other Newton Trails board members are dedicated to promoting, developing and sustaining a connected system of trails throughout Newton County. 

Many of the members donate their time and money to the organization, not only because they see the importance of giving their community a safe space to exercise, but because they believe in the impact these trails have on the wider community beyond their immediate vicinity. Richardson has served on the Newton Trails board for 12 years. 

“Well, I’ve always been interested in the outdoors, you know, hiking and cycling, and I have always enjoyed rail trails. Seeing how many have developed around the country is amazing,” Richardson said. “When I was offered the opportunity to join the board, I jumped at it. I wanted to do my part.” 

He has made his love for the organization quite clear. From leading community hikes and bike rides to writing grants, individuals like Richardson are the reason Newton County has a developed trail system and so many outdoor adventure advocates. Newton Trails began in the early 1990s but officially became a non-profit organization in 1997. Since the organization’s beginning, it has taken on a number of projects, which include paving a short walking loop at Porterdale Yellow River Park and securing a grant to build a 4.7-mile trail at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center in Mansfield. However, Newton Trails has bigger plans ahead of it. 

“These trails are important to Newton County because it’s a real opportunity to connect the different towns in the community.”

Newton Trails Board Chair Greg Richardson

The organization in 2015 entered into a lease with Norfolk Southern, giving it 14.9 miles of an abandoned rail line in Newton County. The name of this trail is the Cricket Frog Trail, and it starts on Washington Street, passes just north of The Square, winds through miles of woods and farmland, travels through the center of Mansfield and ends at Zeigler Road, just west of Newborn. The idea of having a trail that offers such distance lends itself to excitement, but the impact Cricket Frog Trail will have on the community could be profound. Once complete, the trail will connect four of the five cities that comprise Newton County. Richardson has witnessed similar impacts on other communities, like the Atlanta BeltLine.

“These trails are important to Newton County because it’s a real opportunity to connect the different towns in the community,” he said. 

The Newton Trails team works to secure funding for paving these paths through grants and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes and also is in charge of the upkeep of the trails and planning community events. These include weekly hikes, trail cleanup days and community bike rides. 

“I enjoy cleanup days. A lot of times we have to go clean up the trails, cut back the weeds and pick up trash,” McGiboney said. “They really bring a sense of community to the group.”

Community hikes represent a significant initiative of the organization. Every week, Richardson and other board members lead a group in a nature walk or hike within a two-hour drive of Covington. This helps educate individuals on all the opportunities of hiking and exercising around them. Richardson indicated that Newton Trails hopes to launch a trail finder on its website to aid visitors in locating the perfect trail for them. What comes next for Newton Trails? The budget continues to focus on the development of the Cricket Frog Trail, but Richardson hopes to see a network of trails connecting Newton County to surrounding areas in the future.

“We are more than one trail,” he said. 

To discover more about Newton Trails, how you can get involved or learn about upcoming events, visit the organization’s website at newtontrails.org.

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