After months of studying options and seeking local input, the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission will determine the fate of the R.E.M. “Murmur” trestle, a structure that has had an uncertain future for years.
The Athens-Clarke County Leisure Services department is seeking to preserve the most substantial portion of the iconic trestle located in Dudley Park. The construction will incorporate the current structure into the Firefly Trail with new sections made of steel and concrete.
The project, estimated to cost between $3-4 million, will preserve the trestle for years to come, rather than being something that will require continued maintenance, said Eric Bosman, Kimley-Horn consultant.
Project managers introduced their plans to community members at a Sept. 16 public open house at the ACC Planning Department building regarding the famous trestle immortalized on the back cover of R.E.M.’s debut album “Murmur.”
The trestle is a piece of a wooden railroad in Dudley Park. After CSX Transportation started removing trestles along an abandoned rail line from Winterville to Athens, ACC purchased the trestle and incorporated the surrounding area into the Firefly trail system.
Technical analysis of the trestle conducted by a project task team concluded the existing materials of the trestle would not be suitable for rehabilitation.
Project Administrator Derek Doster and Bosman showed audience members the final concept for structure, officially known as the Firefly Bridge over Trail Creek.
The team looked at alternative concepts, went through design refinements, met with the mayor and commissioners and met with the firefly trail committee before developing a concept for the bridge to be presented to the Mayor and Commission in October 2019.
About 73% of the trestle’s wood must be replaced for the trestle to remain standing and be functional, the study found.
Public input was sought at three listening sessions in March, community events in Athens, online surveys and two public meetings in May. The input was solicited to review the historic and cultural value of the trestle, develop a trail that is functional for pedestrians and cyclists and to consider the impact of tourism. Other concerns regarded environmental impact and cost factors.
“The main goal was to find a balance between historic and modern and mindful of cost from construction and maintenance standpoint, project that would help preserve a community icon,” Boseman said.
The feedback from the audience of 15-20 people was overall positive, with the majority of attendees feeling the plan incorporated the history of Athens without spending unnecessary funds.
Still, some had concerns regarding the costs and environmental impact. The current plan will not increase the environmental footprint of the river basin as it will use the existing structure, according to Bosman.
Gary Armour, Athens native and owner of Armour Services is in favor of the new concept. He believes the trestle encompasses the history of music and the history of the railroad.
District 5 Commissioner Tim Denson feels the plan is the best compromise between commissioners, people calling for preservation and other community members.
“Although it would have been nice to reuse parts of the bridge, there were too many concerns with the existing material. This plan allows us to keep the old trestle, but make it safer with weathering steel. A big issue was maintenance cost and this cuts the cost in half,” Denson said.
Another public information meeting will be held at ACC Planning Department on Thursday, Sept. 19 at 6 p.m. Community members can fill out an online survey and ACC may hold more community events for further input.
The period between now and October will be used to gather input to give to the Mayor and Commission before moving forward with the project.