It’s the End of the Trestle as we know it (and I feel fine)

The mayor and commission met on November 5 to discuss the future of the famous Murmur trestle. They also had another intense debate on the Prosperity Package.


Front cover of REM’s Murmur

Last week, the mayor and commission voted to give the famous Murmur trestle a makeover that not everyone is excited about. They also had an intense debate on the prosperity package. Will that ever be finalized? Let’s find out:

The Fate of the Murmur Trestle

If you don’t know, REM is one of the great rock bands of all time, and they’re from Athens!

Back cover of REM’s Murmur

Their first album, Murmur, was released in 1983 and it helped put Athens on the map. And it definitely put this old railroad trestle on the map. That’s the one in Dudley Park behind Mama’s Boy. It was built in 1888 but once it stopped carrying trains, it stopped being maintained. So it just kind of sat there, falling apart, until now. With the Firefly Trail being built, there’s a need for a bridge at that exact spot. But.. the Murmur trestle is falling apart like I said.

So, If we knock it down and build another bridge, we’d be knocking down what’s become a monument to Athens music history. But we can’t stop building the Firefly Trail. So what do? Engineers have been working it. There were a couple designs, but they eventually settled on this one after a lot of public input:New design for bridge over Trail CreekIt preserves parts of the wood trestle and strengthens it with steel arches on either side. It seems to be a middle ground, but will it make both sides happy? It should satisfy the bikers, because, hey you can use it to get to the other side, so check. How about the REM fans?

Public Speaker #1: “We can choose to preserve an item from the 1800s that is known worldwide, or we can choose to create a facsimile of a railroad bridge, a wooden trestle, or whatever.”

Public Speaker #2: “This is crazy to do anything other than to restore it to as close to historically-accurate as we can make it.”

Maybe not so happy, then. Hmm… how did the commission handle this situation?

Commissioner Andy Herod: “The Rails to Trails committee has been looking at this for at least a decade.”

Commissioner Melissa Link: “But it’s clear that this is a very important, intimate experience when you stop under that bridge, and you’re surrounded by this tangle of wooden beams, and you recognize the history, not just the railroad history, but the cultural history.”

Commissioner Russell Edwards: “From the terminus of the archway, all the way to Trail Creek, there will be wood pilings that look very much like what is on the back cover of this album.”

Commissioner Patrick Davenport: “I motion to move to vote on this thing, because we’re going to be back and forth all night.”

The final vote was 7-3 to move forward with the new design. Okay, moving on to the prosperity package.

Indecision about the Prosperity Package

This is a $4 million dollar investment in fighting poverty started by Commissioners Thornton and Hamby. Even though the package was approved in June, so far, there are still no specifics.

There is a proposal on the table, which is $800,000 to reinvigorate a program called Neighborhood Leaders. The program was started during the Obama administration, using federal funding that has since been cut by Republicans. At its peak, Family Connection-Communities in Schools employed 20 people in low-income neighborhoods as organizers who helped connect their communities with services and resources for moving out of poverty.

Original image from Family Connection’s video about the Neighborhood Leaders program.

Tim Johnson, the Executive Director of Family Connection, believes that “with time, a major investment in Neighborhood Leaders will affect the poverty rate, and almost immediately it will have positive impacts on individuals served and on the community as a whole.”

With the clock running down on this one year package, this was approved, right?

Commissioner Jerry NeSmith: “I think this puts the cart before the horse. $800,000 to hire some people, do to what?”

Commissioner Ovita Thornton: “I just do not want to be attached to something that does look like a hand-out.”

Commissioner Mariah Parker: “I think that in order for folks to organize, be it folks organizing their workplaces or in their neighborhoods, or in general, stepping up the ladder of economic mobility in our town, they have to have bellies full and clothes on their backs.”

Commissioner Patrick Davenport: “I hate this Prosperity Package, I think it’s just a government handout.”

Commissioner Tim Denson: “I take a little bit of offense at demeaning the word “hand-out.” I mean, that’s what I want us to do, I want us to be putting our hand out, to help these people. We have 38% of our population that’s in poverty, and I want them to know that this county is putting our hand out, offering it to them to help them, and to help pull them up, because it’s impossible to do it by yourself.”

Commissioner Ovita Thornton: “We are not helping people when we do just hand-outs. We are trying to do a hand-up. We’re trying to lift people up. We’re not just giving stuff away, just to be giving it away. We are lifting… there’s a difference between a hand-out and a hand-up.”

Calling the Neighborhood Leaders program a “hand-out” doesn’t sound right to me. Organizing isn’t make-work. It’s a real job.

Anyway, the decision on Neighborhood Leaders was pushed back to December, and it’s not clear if it will pass. Even if it does, how about the other three quarters of the prosperity package? With only about four months until budget talks start again, they’d better agree on something fast. If not, the prosperity package will remain an empty box. Not a great Christmas present.

On the other hand, I don’t want them to rush. It may be better to do the right thing, even if its years from now, than to do the wrong thing today.

Also at this meeting, Trail Creek Park was renamed Virginia Cofer Walker Park, after the late civil rights activist and pillar of the east Athens community.

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