A project a long time in the making was officially dedicated Saturday in Guyton.
Following more than a decade of work, city leaders celebrated the opening of Guyton’s walking and biking trail along the old Central of Georgia railroad line.
“We hope you will enjoy (the trail), respect it and just enjoy Guyton — you are a part of it,” Frederick Doberson, former president of the Guyton Community Association, told the crowd assembled for Saturday’s ribbon cutting.
The landscaped trail along Highway 17 in downtown Guyton was a mostly federally-funded project as part of Rails to Trails, a national effort to turn abandoned and unused rail lines into pathways. The plan for the trail began back in 2000, as a recommendatoin in a study of Guyton conducted by the state Department of Economic Development.
The next step for the trail came in 2004 when Guyton received a $600,000 Federal Highway Administration Transportation Enhancement grant. The city chipped in the remaining $159,000 needed for the project.
After a four-year delay, the city reached an agreement with the state Department of Transportation in 2008 to begin work on the trail. The city bid the project in 2009, and construction started in 2010 and was completed last year.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Doberson said. “I will be 88 years old in November, and I have seen a lot of changes in Guyton. I’m happy and honored we are able to join hands (for the dedication).”
Guyton Mayor Michael Garvin said the pathway became a reality thanks to several people – most of all, late former mayor C.D. Dean. Garvin cited the Rails to Trails project as just one example of Dean always wanting the best for his hometown of Guyton.
“What we’re doing every day, what we’re trying to accomplish for the city of Guyton, is still a part of him,” Garvin said. “The time I have served as mayor has been easy. That’s what happens when you step in following a visionary.”
Garvin asked the crowd to observe a moment of silence in Dean’s honor. Dean’s widow Elizabeth, joined by son Devon and daughter Cynthia, cut the ceremonial ribbon.
“As the son of C.D. Dean, it is inspiring to see this vision become a reality,” Devon Dean said. “I’m just proud to call him ‘father,’ because that’s the most important role he played in my life.”
City councilmember Ulysses Eaton also was involved deeply in the project. He recalled the importance placed on projects such as Rails to Trails when he served on Leadership Effingham in 2007.
“One of the keys to the whole group was the beautification of Effingham County,” Eaton said. “This is our version of beautification of the corridors.”
The trail is the latest effort to celebrate Guyton’s railroad past. Live oaks were planted several years ago along the railroad median, where daily trains ran until the early 1960s, and a caboose donated to the city sits across from city hall.
The city soon will add picnic tables along the trail, with hopes for eventually an even bigger addition – a replica of Guyton’s old railroad depot and an open-air pavilion to host a farmers’ market and other events.
“The railroad actually built Guyton,” Eaton said.
The spirit of the day may have been summed up best by Ginger Keiffer, a registered nurse at Effingham Hospital who discussed how the walking/jogging/biking trial will help the community enjoy the benefits of exercise.
“Congratulations, Guyton,” she said. “Once again, you are steps ahead.”