The city of Sugar Hill has celebrated what council member Mason Roszel calls a milestone — the completion of phase 1 of the Sugar Hill Greenway, a planned 16.5-mile trail system that connects the local community in a new way, and the opening of a new park that celebrates Sugar Hill’s gold mining history.
Phase 1 of the greenway project includes the first five miles of trails that start from downtown Sugar Hill at Cornerstone Park, passing by Sugar Hill Elementary before meandering past E. E. Robinson Park North and, farther along, E. E. Robinson Park South, continuing near Gwinnett Church, passing through the newly opened Gold Mine Park and ending near Bethany United Methodist Church.
Roszel says he personally uses these trails daily — for exercise, to walk his children to school and to occasionally stroll downtown with his family for dinner or ice cream.
“Even in its infancy we’re already seeing it championed and utilized by residents of all ages, families, community groups, local churches and our amazing schools,” Roszel said. “The Greenway is a great example of our shared desire to preserve and activate our unique Sugar Hill assets to be enjoyed by all, residents and visitors alike.”
“The Sugar Hill Greenway started as a community dream that has been in the works for years,” Roszel says.
In April 2016, a preliminary report for the Sugar Hill Greenway trail was being reviewed and a final report was being prepared by the city’s consultant. A number of agencies were involved in the planning and development process for the project, including the Georgia Department of Transportation, the Atlanta Regional Commission, Gwinnett County Government and local property owners, among others. From the beginning stages of planning for the greenway to the official opening of phase 1 seven years later, the process included various stages of design, surveying, permit requests, the preparation of construction documents, right-of-way and easement acquisition, the actual construction phase and other steps in taking the greenway from design to execution.
From highway to greenway
Roszel says the trails that make up the greenway are situated on land that was once intended for a major state highway.
“Thankfully that didn’t happen,” he says, “which gave us the opportunity to protect the land and activate it for a much better purpose.”
That better purpose includes creating safe places for residents and city visitors to walk, jog, bike, rollerblade, explore nature and simply enjoy the outdoors along a picturesque trail that also serves to connect various locations within the city, including the downtown area of Sugar Hill, schools, churches, businesses, various parks and more.
Gold Mine Park
Sugar Hill’s newest park space, Gold Mine Park, ties into the five miles of greenway that have been completed. The 9.2-acre park serves as a trailhead for the greenway at 4400 Level Creek Road, and the city held a ribbon cutting ceremony commemorating its grand opening on March 20, where city officials welcomed residents and visitors to enjoy the park, as well as the greenway.
Students from White Oak and Sugar Hill elementary schools lined up to help Sugar Hill Mayor Brandon Hembree cut a bright green ribbon to officially open the park.
“We are really doing these (projects) for the youth in our community, because they’re our future,” Hembree said during the March 20 event. “We want to make sure we leave a great community for them.”
Gold Mine Park celebrates Sugar Hill’s gold mining history and features an overlook of Simmons Mine, a mine that was active from the 1800s through the early 1900s. During the grand opening celebration, children and adults were able to pan for gold.
The costs of going green(way)
The first phase of the greenway cost about $5 million to complete, and Roszel said almost all of that funding came from SPLOST. The city plans to tap SPLOST funds to complete future phases as well.
“With proper planning, all this has come without raising taxes,” Steve Graessle says of the greenway project.
Graessle, who has been involved in the planning for the project since its inception, is co-chair of the Friends of the Greenway, a group of Sugar Hill residents who support the city in promoting and celebrating the greenway. This group also provides input related to the project to city leaders.
“I believe a successful community is one that can balance greenspace and development,” Graessle says. “With the completion of Phase 1 of the Sugar Hill Greenway, the city demonstrates its continued commitments of past and present city officials to various greenspaces like the Community Garden, the Sugar Hill Golf Club, Gary Pirkle Park and the new Ridge Lake and Gold Mine parks.”
During his remarks at the ribbon cutting for Gold Mine Park, Assistant City Manager Troy Besseche said work will continue on the remaining phases of the Sugar Hill Greenway.
“It’s a great day for us to enjoy a little bit of a reprieve and catch our breath,” he said, “and then we are going to start working on Phases 2, 3 and 4.”
Those remaining phases will bring Sugar Hill’s vision of a trail system encircling the city and facilitating connection to fruition.
“When I think about stewardship and the long term future of Sugar Hill,” Roszel says, “balancing our development with our preservation through projects like the Greenway is key.”
FEATURED PHOTO: Students from White Oak Elementary and Sugar Hill Elementary joined Sugar Hill Mayor Brandon Hembree and other city officials to cut a bright green ribbon to officially celebrate the opening of Gold Mine Park, a trailhead for the Sugar Hill Greenway, on March 20, 2023. Photo courtesy of the city of Sugar Hill.