by Robin Kemp

With so many people talking about pedestrian safety, we thought we’d put together a list of all the trails where people can walk and roll, bike and hike, push a stroller or strut with a mutt without having to worry about motor vehicles. While some of the trails listed are not suitable for all purposes and not all are wheelchair-accessible, Clayton County does offer many options for everyone.

We put together this list of pedestrian, multi-use trail, and similar projects either in the planning stages or already in place throughout Clayton County. Trails that have not yet been finished are starred:

Morrow has a series of connected trails that are easy to access and offer a smooth path. (Photo: Robin Kemp/The Clayton Crescent)

  • Clayton County
    • * Clayton County Smart Pedestrian Plan (includes Morrow and Lake City): This proposal was meant to give Clayton County the planning tools it needs to develop a “smart” pedestrian plan: a way to keep track of all the pedestrian assets, figure out which technologies would work best, gather information about residents’ pedestrian needs, and putting all that information together in a way that makes sense before building or replacing things.
    • * Clayton County Model Mile: from Charles R. Drew HIgh School, along the Flint River, past Southern Regional Medical Center. The idea is to give Drew students an outdoor classroom center, Southern Regional patients a place to improve their health, and reconnect residents with the Flint River. Funding came from Aerotropolis Atlanta under the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Livable Cities Initiative in May 2019.
    • Clayton County Walk and Read is a joint project of the Clayton County Library System and Clayton County Parks and Recreation. Kids combine reading and physical activities by following signs at Reynolds Nature Preserve, International Park, Jester’s Creek, and Lovejoy Regional Park. The stories change every two weeks. Use a QR code reader on your cellphone to hear the story in English, Spanish, or Vietnamese. Parents will need to sign a waiver.
    • Clayton County Water Authority allows a limited number of people to view wildlife on its properties, particularly the E.L. Huie Pond–an annual permit costs $25 to 40 and you must stay on the trail.
  • Forest Park
  • Morrow
    • a new wide concrete path from Jonesboro Road near the food truck area next to Clayton State University runs alongside the high-power wires, then curves right and connects with the foot bridge and trail across Jester Creek to the dog park and community garden.
    • On the other side of the parking lot, the City of Morrow Pedestrian Pathway winds through woods and emerge at the park next to Morrow City Hall. It also connects several subdivisions. The trail is suitable for walking, running, biking, wheelchairs, and strollers.
    • Reynolds Nature Preserve, across from the dog park and paved trails, crosses both Morrow and Lake City and is suitable for walking and hiking. Dogs must be on a 6′ leash at all times. Some runners do use the trails but these are mostly rustic and include varying degrees of steepness and trip hazards. They are not suitable for bikes or strollers. They are excellent for moderate to strenuous hiking and nature walks. Please note: this is a nature preserve. Do not pick plants, break branches, harass wildlife, blast music, or litter. Pick up your dog’s droppings and carry your trash with you to the cans at the front entrance or picnic area. Look for signs with QR codes at featured sites in the preserve, where you can download a virtual tour for each point of interest.
  • Lake City
    • In addition to part of Reynolds Nature Center, Lake City has its own nature trails in Willie Oswalt Park behind City Hall. Park at the Lake City Community Center on Jonesboro Road, then walk down the steps straight ahead or on the sidewalk to the right, then left over the pedestrian bridge by the flagpoles. You’ll see a large pond with a gazebo (and lots of geese). Because of swampy conditions on the front trail right behind the community building, City Manager Chris Leighty says some drainage improvements are about to go in.
  • Jonesboro
    • The sidewalks inside and bordering Lee Street Park get a lot of walkers and runners, and the Saturday Farmers’ Market is popular. The park also has a walking track.
    • The city recently finished sidewalk improvements alongside drive-through access to public parking behind the Historic Register buildings on Main Street.
    • Runsboro, a social run/walk group started by A.D. and Cam Dixon, takes a different route each week, rain or shine, usually through Jonesboro but also with forays into other Clayton County cities. All ages and abilities are welcome. Find them on Facebook.
    • Closer to Lake Spivey, Clayton County International Park has wide paved trails suitable for walking, running, biking, strollers, and wheelchairs. A pedestrian bridge arches over what will be the entrance to the new water park (still under construction). Parking is limited behind the Recreation Center and there is no direct path from the parking lot to the Bark Park. The Recreation Center rents bikes for $10 per hour. There’s also a bike repair station with tools just before you go over the pedestrian bridge. It’s possible to hike a circle by coming back across the bridge on the other side of the amphitheater–but that bridge is built for cars and has no dedicated pedestrian lane or sidewalk.
  • Riverdale
  • Lovejoy
  • Hampton
    • Newman Wetlands Center is run by the Clayton County Water Authority and features a world-famous natural water-cleaning demonstration area–a wetlands ecosystem. The wetlands is a favorite rest stop for migrating birds of all kinds from across the Western Hemisphere. The center is best for birdwatching and nature photography–being quiet is important so as not to scare off the creatures! Keep the kids busy with a seasonal trail checklist. You’ll hike on an elevated half-mile-long boardwalk through the wetlands, with some bare trail areas on land. Maps and brochures are available in English and Spanish.

Hike smart: trail tips

Runsboro welcomes everyone, rain or shine, runners or walkers

You don’t need to spend a bunch of money to take a hike. For example, you need water but you can refill an empty bottle. You can wear comfortable old shoes for most short day hikes instead of buying new hiking boots. Like a good Scout, “be prepared.” Even if you’re not out in the middle of nowhere, a couple of small items can make all the difference if you have a mishap:

Lake City’s Willie Oswalt Park offers three short trails. Look out for swampy conditions near the Community Center.
  • Water is essential, especially in hot weather. You can buy a carabiner (clip) with a strap and rubber loop to clip your water bottle onto your belt or pack. If you don’t want to fool with carrying water bottles, you can buy a “camel” backpack. Please don’t throw bottle caps or bottles on the trail or in the woods. You can crush your empty bottle by stepping on it, then put the cap back on and put it in your pocket until you find a garbage can or recycling bin.
  • Fully-charged cellphone in case of emergency or in case you want to take photos. Shut off Bluetooth and apps you won’t be using to save battery power. You can bring a small power booster or solar charger and cable if you think you’ll run out of juice.
  • A small plastic bag or two to put your trash in or to pick up your dog’s deposit(s) until you get to a garbage can. Explain to children that dropping candy wrappers or bottle caps can make an animal sick and makes the park look ugly. Teach them to put their trash in a bag or pocket until they get back to the garbage can.
  • Pocket first-aid kit for minor scrapes, cuts, and stings.
  • Insect repellent and/or sunscreen. (You can put it on before you leave so you don’t have to drag the bottles around with you.)
  • Sturdy close-toed shoes with good arch and ankle support. Sneakers are usually fine on paved surfaces but might not provide solid support on rough trails.
  • Socks help prevent blisters and manage the foot funk.
  • A bandanna can serve as a makeshift ankle brace, sweatband, facemask, head covering, or carrying pouch.
  • A hat can keep your head warm in winter, the sun out of your eyes in summer, and bugs out of your hair anytime.
  • A small waist pouch or backpack to carry your stuff and keep your hands free.
  • Walking sticks (either the old-school single wooden staff or the modern paired sticks) can help you keep your balance.
  • A leash for your dog–6 feet and not retractable–because your dog could run off after a wild animal or get into a fight.
  • A mask for when you pass within 6 feet of other people on a narrow trail.
  • Gloves, handwarmers, a scarf, and a warm coat in winter can save your life if the worst happens.
  • Check out the American Hiking Society’s Hiking 101 for more!
Kids observing nature from Newman Wetlands Center’s elevated boardwalk

Be sure to pace yourself. Take your time and observe the sights and sounds around you. If you’re quiet, you might see a deer or a rabbit–even off busy Jonesboro Road. If you’re out of shape, tired, or hiking in extreme temperatures, be sure not to push yourself too hard. Take a break if you get winded. Watch where you put your hands and feet and scan the woods and trail as you travel for any hazards. It’s best to hike with a buddy in case of emergency. Stay on the marked trail so that you don’t step into a hidden hole, twist your ankle on a rock, or disturb a venomous snake.

Most snakes in Georgia are not venomous and eat pests like rats. If you see one, don’t scream or try to kill it–just leave it alone and walk away calmly.

If you see wild animals like ducks, geese, deer, or raccoons, never, ever feed them. When people feed wild animals, they lose their natural fear of humans. You could be bitten or seriously injured, even by a small animal.

One of the easiest animals to spot are birds. Consider bringing a pair of binoculars for a closer look. You can bring pocket nature ID guides and bird books or download the free Cornell Ornithology Lab‘s Merlin Bird ID or Audubon Bird Guide apps to your phone. You also can keep a “bird list” to check off each kind of bird you see or hear. Make a game out of it with kids. The Georgia Audubon Society holds bird hikes at Reynolds Nature Preserve; the next one is August 11 at 8 a.m.

Day hiking close to Clayton County

Hungry for more? Check out some of the nearby Georgia State Parks run by the Department of Natural Resources! You’ll have to pay $5 to park. If you think you’ll come back more often, you can buy an annual ParkPass ($50, or $25 for ages 62+, or $37.50 for active military and veterans) and drive right in! Besides the Atlanta Beltline, Chattahoochee River, and the many trails in North Georgia, you can check out these lesser-known trails south OTP:

State Rep. Kim Schofield (center) regularly invites constituents to join her to hike and chat at Sweetwater Creek State Park.
  • Sweetwater Creek State Park (Lithia Springs): This highly-popular park may limit the number of people who can enter at one time, so you might have to leave and come back later on extremely busy days. The wait is worth it, though: Sweetwater has 15 miles of trails for your enjoyment, which are marked by blazes (splotches of paint) on trees so you can find your way. Choose from the Red (1 mile in, 1 mile out, easy to difficult), White (5.2 mile loop, moderate to difficult), and Yellow (3-mile loop, moderate to difficult)Trails. The Red Trail will take to the ruins of an old mill (closed unless you go on a ranger-guided hike). The Red Trail is heavily used and you may see a lot of litter (pick it up). | TRAIL MAP | Directions (about 1-hour drive)
  • Panola Mountain State Park (Stockbridge): Home to the rare monadnock rock plant, Panola Mountain offers some amazing hikes. Dogs are not allowed in the protected areas but, with a leash, they are allowed on other trails. Check out the Outcrop, Watershed, and PATH Foundation Trails! | TRAIL MAP | Directions (about half-an-hour drive)
  • Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area (Lithonia): This park is connected with Panola Mountain State Park and home to the monadnock. Arabia Mountain Path lets you hike or bike from Lithonia to the monastery in Conyers. The paved path is ADA-complaint. | TRAIL MAP | Directions (about 35-minute drive)
  • Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve Trail (Lithonia): This hike through the heart of Arabia Mountain lets you see monadnock, lichens, mosses, and other rock-loving life forms on nine different trails. | TRAIL MAP | Sweetwater Creek State Park (Lithia Springs): This highly-popular park may limit the number of people who can enter at one time, so you might have to leave and come back later on extremely busy days. The wait is worth it, though: Sweetwater has 15 miles of trails for your enjoyment, which are marked by blazes (splotches of paint) on trees so you can find your way. Choose from the Red (1 mile in, 1 mile out, easy to difficult), White (5.2 mile loop, moderate to difficult), and Yellow (3-mile loop, moderate to difficult)Trails. The Red Trail will take to the ruins of an old mill (closed unless you go on a ranger-guided hike). The Red Trail is heavily used and you may see a lot of litter (pick it up). | TRAIL MAP | Directions (about 1-hour drive)
  • Panola Mountain State Park (Stockbridge): Home to the rare monadnock rock plant, Panola Mountain offers some amazing hikes. Dogs are not allowed in the protected areas but, with a leash, they are allowed on other trails. Check out the Outcrop, Watershed, and PATH Foundation Trails! | TRAIL MAP | Directions (about half-an-hour drive)
  • Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area (Lithonia): This park is connected with Panola Mountain State Park and home to the monadnock. Arabia Mountain Path lets you hike or bike from Lithonia to the monastery in Conyers. The paved path is ADA-complaint. | TRAIL MAP | Directions (about 35-minute drive)
  • Davidson-Arabia Mountain Nature Preserve Trail (Lithonia): This hike through the heart of Arabia Mountain lets you see monadnock, lichens, mosses, and other rock-loving life forms on nine different trails. | TRAIL MAP | Directions
” target=”_blank” rel=”noreferrer noopener”>Directions (about 35-minute drive)
  • Lithonia Walkabout: Take a hike through Lithonia’s historic African-American landmarks. See the ruins of the Bruce Street School, First St. Paul AME Church, the Smooth Ashlar and F&AM #84 Masonic Lodges, and the African American and City of Lithonia Cemeteries, among other landmarks. Be advised: the path is rocky, so watch your step! Start at Swift and Main Streets. | TRAIL MAP | Directions (about 45-minute drive)
  • The Clayton County Cycling Club, better known as C-4, welcomes all riders, bike types, and skill levels.

    Take a hike or bike!

    If you hit the trail, whether by foot, wheelchair, or bike, send us your trail photos and we’ll share them on the website! Just send us an e-mail, attach your photo, tell us who everyone is and where you’re from (from left to right), where you are hiking, and tell us about your hike, including any accessibility issues and cool wildlife or nature sightings. And if you pick up the trash along the trail, pose with your haul, include your name and address, and we’ll send you a Clayton Crescent sticker for a job well done!

    Resources

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