PIEDMONT — Pedaling through downtown Piedmont on a path that connects metro
Atlanta to Anniston, it’s easy to imagine the potential of the newly completed
Chief Ladiga Trail.
A Rails-to-Trails project like this spawned an industry in tiny Damascus,
Could it happen in Alabama?
The famous — and shorter — Virginia Creeper Trail draws tourists from around
the world. They stay in bed-and-breakfasts, rent bicycles from local shops and
eat at mom-and-pop diners. They pay shuttle services to take them to the top of
the trail so they’ll have a long, downhill run.
In Alabama, the last connecting leg of the Chief Ladiga Trail officially
opened Saturday. Riders who got a preview say it’s a winner that compares
favorably to its famous Virginia cousin.
Judging by the traffic on a recent weekend, however, the Chief Ladiga Trail
is a secret outside the bicycling community.
“Don’t tell anybody about this place,” joked student pastor Jeff Sellers, who
brought several young people from Ninth Street United Methodist Church in
Decatur. “I don’t think that many people know about it yet.”
The Chief Ladiga connects to the Silver Comet Trail at the Georgia state
line, creating a 98-mile route. Both trails follow the railway that once carried
the Silver Comet passenger train between Birmingham and Atlanta.
Imagine a railroad with its crossties removed and topped with smooth asphalt,
and you can visualize the trail.
In Piedmont, it crosses the heart of town and by the backyards of cottages
that once housed mill workers.
The real beauty begins just east of town where the trail passes Dugger
Mountain, Alabama’s second highest peak, and skirts the wilds of Talladega
National Forest. The ride includes several scenic bridge crossings over Terrapin
Creek along with thick forests, high-country farmland and beaver-dam
Part of this stretch shares space with the 240-mile Pinhoti National
Recreation Trail as it meanders toward the Appalachian Trail.
Because trains need a gentle grade to climb mountains, bicycle riders benefit
from an easy passageway to Georgia. The trip back to Piedmont is slightly down
hill and faster.
In the summer, Sellers led a youth group of about 12 riders between the
trailhead just east of Anniston and the end in Smyrna, Ga. They made a three-day
trip of it.
He said he believes it’s just a matter of time before Piedmont sees business
growth from the trail.
“It’s just incredible how much potential it has,” said Sellers, who views the
trail as a family friendly destination.
Georgia greets Alabama with a human face at the state line. It’s a
turn-around gathering point where riders trade information about the stretch of
trail in their perspective state.
A group of Spandex-clad Georgia riders on expensive road bikes stopped to
talk to the youth group from Decatur. They said the Georgia leg is complete
except for an eight-mile detour that includes a few equally mean hills and
“This trail connects more than places,” said Pete Conroy, chairman of the
Chief Ladiga Trail board. “It connects people.”
About 10 million of those people live within 120 miles of the Chief
Ladiga/Silver Comet’s midpoint, he said.
Conroy said a formal dedication, involving supporters from both states, will
be April 12.
He agreed that, like Damascus, Piedmont is in an ideal location to cash in on
For now, the long-shuttered mill looms over downtown like a weathered
The last train whistle wailed long ago. The final railcar rests at the town’s
Even the vacant storefronts stand like a monument to the past.
But the South’s largest metropolis lies at the other end of the old Silver
And with the completion of the Chief Ladiga Trail, a new train might be
headed toward the station.
For a family friendly introduction to the most scenic stretch of the Chief
Ladiga Trail, park at the Eubanks Visitors Center in downtown Piedmont. Pedal
13.5 miles one way (27 miles round trip) to the Georgia state line, where you
can picnic at a new park.
From Decatur, expect about five hours of round-trip driving and three hours
of bike riding at a leisurely pace.
Bring plenty of drinks and snacks because there are no stores east of
With the trail’s paved surface, any kind of ride will do, from the slowest
mountain bike to the fastest road bike.
On the Net