We walked the BeltLine’s Eastside Trail–and it’s pretty damn awesome (albeit not finished)


There are two weeks to go until the October 15 official opening of the Atlanta BeltLine’s Eastside Trail—which stretches from Piedmont Park to the Inman Park—but when we walked the two-and-a-quarter mile route this weekend, the trail was hopping. On an overcast Saturday in late September, foot and two-wheel traffic was steady. If ever there was uncertainty about demand for the BeltLine trail, it would have been squashed with a fifteen minute stroll along the concrete path.

We passed dozens of joggers, cyclists, dog walkers, stroller-pushers, skateboarders, and little tikes teetering on their two wheelers. Not to mention, a cluster of loping moody pre-teens and a cute high-school couple strolling hand-in-hand (nice cheap date!). Also noteworthy: spotted for the first time in months of exploring the trail in progress, an APD bicycle officer.

Before the good folks from the BeltLine call with a reminder; yes, I’m fully aware that the trail is still under construction and that we traversed it at our own risk (in particular the not-yet-done bridge across Ponce de Leon, pictured above). I’m not encouraging Atlanta magazine readers to put themselves in danger.

Over the past year, my husband and I have walked along portions of this trail in various states of completion. It’s exciting to see that segments once accessible only via treacherous scrambles down kudzu-covered embankments (or composed only of mud, rubble, and trash) are now part of a smooth, inviting, pathway. It almost looks like those lovely renderings we were shown taking the BeltLine tour earlier this year.

Then again, the trail’s behind schedule, and, with the splatting of this summer’s T-SPLOST vote, the roughed-in space for future light rail feels a little like a cruel taunt. But it’s exciting to see substantial progress.

“I’m trying to imagine how it feels for Ryan Gravel to walk along here and see how his Masters thesis has gone from being a theoretical exercise to something physical,” I said to my husband as we walked past the Fourth Ward Skate Park and saw kids on boards working on their moves and a game of Ultimate Frisbee in progress. I know how it makes me feel: wishing I’d written my own thesis about something more tangible than visual rhetoric.

The Eastside Trail is the first completed BeltLine section to follow old rail lines. As we’ve been watching its construction, it’s been remarkable to see the transformation from concept to concrete. Tangled fields of kudzu have been transformed into an asset that residents of adjoining communities are already taking advantage of.

Smaller paths that connect the trail to the skate park and Freedom Parkway are in place. However, while there aren’t yet visible connectors to other obvious stopping-off points—the main part of Historic Old Fourth Ward Park? Whole Foods? Midtown Plaza?—it’s certain trail users will simply create their tracks. There’s already a red-clay footpath from the Kroger parking lot to the trail.

At a brisk four-miles-an-hour clip, we made it from Irwin Street to Piedmont Park in thirty-five minutes, paused to refuel at Park Tavern with a glass of—what else?—Eastside Trail Pale Ale, then headed back.

Of course, we had to schlep an additional fifteen minutes from Irwin Street through the Krog Tunnel, and back to our home in Cabbagetown, which made me wonder again how the BeltLine folks will deal with traversing the Hulsey freight yard to connect the northern stretch of the Eastside Trail to the section that will pick up and run between Reynoldstown and Cabbagetown. That, problem I suspect, will take years to solve.

If you want a sneak peek at the Eastside Trail, portions will be included in this weekend’s Streets Alive event.

Pictured (top to bottom): The bridge across Ponce de Leon, September 2012;  underpass near the skate park, December 2011; trail construction in progress, early 2012; Eastside Trail, September 2012