ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is moving forward with a project to designate a scenic byway between Gilmer, Pickens, and Dawson counties. Meetings are being held this month informing citizens about the byway and answering questions on the topic.
Each county is looking to hold one meeting for the the project, allowing their citizens an opportunity to attend a closer location. The counties’ Boards of Commissioners have already approved the initial process of the designation for the byway. Gilmer approved it in November 2021.
Gilmer’s meeting, led by Janet Cochran, saw citizens attending and questioning the projects aims and benefits to the county and balancing them against the costs. Many citizens questioned whether the project might increase traffic on local and state roads as one of the main roads of the byway travels along Highway 52 between Dawson and Gilmer. However, the entirety of the byway involves several offshoots, loops, and branches of the route connecting small roads into it, roads like Orchard Lane.
But the inclusion of many of those side roads are part of the discussion as Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) Kent Sanford said that is part of what they are asking citizens for. Sanford said that utilizing input from citizens who live in the area, they can not only offer suggestion or requests to move certain sections or alter the route in ways to provide the best scenario as well as offering suggestions on improvements to the route.
That is part of the Georgia Rural Economic Development organization’s process in the byway designation. They will offer recommendations to government entities from local county commissioners to the state and GDOT on the needs of this route to both improve and maintain the scenic nature of the byway. Cochran said that this could be an increase in trash pickup, addition of certain things as a part of the Corridor Management Plan. However, the committee itself has no power to enforce or accomplish these tasks as they can only suggest them to the roads management.
This is all to maintain the six intrinsic qualities of a byway including scenic, natural, historic, cultural, archaeological, and recreational sites. Of which, the route being designated has five qualities. Only archaeological wasn’t found.
Being 81 miles long, the Amicalola Scenic Byway touches jurisdictions of Dawson County, Dawsonville, Gilmer County, Ellijay, Pickens County, and Jasper.
Cochran told citizens that the designation does not come with a widening of the road, construction, or other private property encroachments. There will be signs erected identifying the byway on the roadside, but no major expansions are included. On of the only restrictions that comes with the designation is no new billboards will be erected. Something that Sanford says Gilmer County already has in its ordinances.
Gilmer’s meeting saw both opposition and support for the project as some suggested renaming it to include apples in the name and others worries about the state coming in to widen and control the roads. Still others spoke on the byway’s potential to add traffic to certain roads already under stress and in major need of repair. Countering that, some spoke about the byway’s plan to aid “market share,” a term used by Cochran, as draining tourists from the apple houses and directing them elsewhere. Similar discourse came in November 2021’s Gilmer BOC meeting as the board was questioned on the designation, its benefits, and “ulterior motives.”
In that meeting, Paris said he had begun thinking of something similar to this for Boardtown Road, though it would be a county designation and not a state designation.
Sanford said that the plan is to increase information and as people are likely to see the signs while already visiting the area. This could lead them to following the road after visiting apple houses and traveling in different directions instead of immediately returning via the same road after visiting their original destination. Cochran also assured citizens that the scenic byway doesn’t restrict their rights to develop their land along the road. As the county ordinances still dictate Land Use, citizens will not have any change in that area either. The county is also not required to fund any of the initial process of the designation. The meetings, information distribution, and even putting up the signs, if the designation is completed, is covered by Georgia’s Rural Center.
That process continues now, after this meeting, as the development of the Corridor Management Plan begins. Another meeting will be held to present that plan and it is sent to GDOT for approval and review by the DNR and DCA and then must be approved by the commissioner and board. If approved, it will join the 17 other Scenic Byways designated in the state. Citizens can find all scenic byways on the GDOT’s Scenic Byways page.