A new, 22.6-mile trail system for Villa Rica was given the green light Tuesday by the Villa Rica City Council, starting the process for a new amenity for the city which is more ambitious that Carrollton’s GreenBelt.

The council approved a “master plan” for what its planners are calling “The Gold Nugget Trail,” a network of bike/walk paths that — if completed as planned — would link all of the city’s major landmarks.

The council’s action on Tuesday only approved the plan for the project. Building the project will likely take several years, and, at an estimated cost of $1 million per mile, will be very expensive.

Yet the planners hope to minimize the cost to the city and rely mainly on private donations. Taxpayer funds, it is hoped, will be limited only to matching funds needed to apply for state and federal grants, which the planners also hope will be a major source of funding.

The master plan, adopted during the regular monthly meeting of the council, is designed to be incorporated into the city’s comprehensive plan. The comprehensive plan, which is required by the state, guides the future direction and growth of the community and is in the process of being updated.

Mayor Jeff Reese, who has strongly supported the project, has described the trail system as “a want, not a need,” citing the city’s many infrastructure problems as a more urgent priority for the city. Yet the trail promises to be a major lure for new residents and commercial developers, just as the Carrollton GreenBelt, and enhance Villa Rica’s sense of community.

The city hopes to stimulate private donations to the project by completing a “model mile,” tentatively planned to connect Old Stone and Old Town roads through the Tanner hospital campus, via the public library.

During Tuesday’s council meeting, Reese said that he had been in contact with officers of the Tanner Health System, who, he said, are supportive of the project.

The idea of a multi-use trail system for the city has been discussed for years, but the project has taken on new energy since Carrollton completed its GreenBelt last year.

The PATH Foundation, prime consultant for the GreenBelt, drafted the master plan for the Gold Nugget Trail. The organization has done work on other major trail systems within the metro area.

The master plan contains maps and conceptual art created by the Foundation’s design arm, the Kaizen Collaborative. Thus, for the first time, the long-awaited project has a definitive, if preliminary, outline of trails.

As envisioned, the trail system would be built out in a number of segments over an unspecified period of time.

If the project is funded and built out according to the “master plan,” it will stretch from Gold Dust Park to the west, then to Fullerville and dip through downtown. It would then reach eastward across the Douglas County line to the yet-to-be built Conners Road Park, encircling the whole of the Mirror Lake neighborhood in the process.

The trail would then head south in two parts, with a western leg headed over I-20 at on Daniel Road, then through the neighborhoods below South Carroll Road. An eastern leg would cross I-20 at Tyson road, then run west to connect with the western leg at the Ashbury subdivision. The combined trail would then run south to the Villa Rica Civic Center and Sports Complex, better known as the V-Plex.

Planners said the goal of the project is to link several key sites in the city, including its parks and other facilities. And while the maps created by the Kaizen Collaborative specify trail segments, the final shape of the system may be different by the time the trail is completed.

The master plan does not designate a completion date.

In February, the City Council approved a partnership with the Community Foundation of West Georgia, an organization that accepts donations on behalf of public entities and helps fund projects like the trail system through an investment pool.

State funds could be another funding source, although such grants would require some taxpayer dollars.

At the February council meeting, the panel gave the green light for the parks department to apply for a Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) grant offered by the Georgia Department of Transportation.

TAP funding, according to the city, provides local recipients with “a minimum of $1 million” provided that the city match that grant by 20 percent of city funds.

Last June, the city completed the “Fullerville Trailhead,” located near the Fullerville Soccer Complex. That project was funded through another type of GDOT grant and is meant to be one of several entrance points for the trail.

Taxpayer funds have also been allocated so that the Georgia Department of Transportation can plan for a pedestrian tunnel underneath the proposed North Loop Bypass specifically for trail users.

To be completed as planned, the trail project would have to overcome a number of natural and man-made barriers. One of the latter is the Norfolk Southern Railway, whose busy tracks bisect the city. While the trail is expected to loop through downtown, there are no concrete plans for how it is to do so. One concept, however, includes a pedestrian underpass that would cut underneath the tracks.

Another part of the plan involves reaching from downtown to the Mirror Lake community, via a proposed “Mirror Lake Connector.” But that roadway — intended largely for pedestrians — is still on the planning board and faces its own set of construction hurdles.

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