Go east, young Beltline fanatic

Summer progress on the greenspace loop’s most active segment

The Atlanta Beltline giveth and it taketh away. For a little while this summer at least. Urban hikers and cyclists who imagined spending summer days gallivanting along the Beltline between DeKalb Avenue and Piedmont Park might encounter some obstacles, as construction on the two-and-a-half-mile bike trail, expected to open near the end of this year, is now under way. On June 11, however, city and project officials will cut the ribbon on the city’s first public skate park and multiuse field along the Beltline. One week later they’ll officially open Historic Fourth Ward Park, the 17-acre greenspace that includes an innovative stormwater retention pond, huge playgrounds and interactive water features for the tykes. Here’s a primer for those seeking to frequent the segment.

WHAT WILL THE TRAIL LOOK LIKE: The path and landscaping, provided by Trees Atlanta, will hug the eastern side of the Beltline to leave space for a future light-rail line. The transit line’s footprint will be planted with wildflowers.

HOW YOU CAN ACCESS THE TRAIL: Pretty much the same way you currently do. Several parts of the Beltline’s eastern arc span such busy thoroughfares as North and Ponce de Leon avenues — and won’t have easy access for a while. Plans to install wheelchair ramps at Ralph McGill Boulevard and Virginia, Ponce de Leon, North, Highland and Edgewood avenues were shelved thanks to funding gaps. Once cash becomes available, officials say, the ramps will be built.

MORE PARKS, YOU SAY? Historic Fourth Ward Park, the first phase of which opened quietly in February, will encompass 17 acres between Freedom Parkway and North Avenue. The southern phase currently under construction will include the so-called Foundation Skate Park and a multiuse field. Hikers and cyclists can access that portion of the greenspace, once open, from the Beltline. The construction you now see along North Avenue near the Masquerade is in the park’s northern parcel, which will include an open meadow. Expect that to open later this summer.

WHAT’S THIS ABOUT A FENCE NEAR THE MASQUERADE? Thanks to a funding shortage, hikers and cyclists who currently want to access Historic Fourth Ward Park from the Beltline must leave the project, walk along North Avenue past the Masquerade, turn left on Glen Iris Drive and then take another left on Morgan Street. A sliver of land owned by the Trust for Public Land that links the Beltline and the park has been fenced off to deter hikers from cutting through the parcel. “Because of the elevation change between the Beltline and the park, it’s a huge liability issue for us,” says TPL Project Manager Victoria Talley. Beltline officials say they’re looking for funding to acquire the parcel and adjoining TPL-owned parking lot, which, according to property records, could cost more than $1 million.

“TRAIL HOURS”: Behind the scenes, there’s been spirited discussion over whether the city should prohibit access to the trail from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., as it now does in public parks. Pros: It would be safer, as the trail currently lacks lighting. Cons: Folks working the graveyard shift hoping to pedal home from Midtown to Reynoldstown would lose a clear-cut route. And homeless people who for years have slept under bridges and along the corridor would risk being cited by police. Those hours aren’t set in stone, Beltline spokesman Ethan Davidson says, and as additional improvements are made — including transit construction — the city and ABI will revisit operation hours.

FREEDOM PARK CONNECTIONS: Good news for downtown, Old Fourth Ward and Candler Park cyclists and walkers: Beltline officials say the trail will link to the Freedom Park PATH parallel to Bernina Avenue, offering cyclists an easier route to Piedmont Park and Midtown. Davidson says private developments along the project have the option of creating future connections south of Freedom Parkway into Inman Park Village and into Old Fourth Ward via Willoughby Way.

WHAT HAPPENS FROM HERE? One big question looming over the trail is how it will take shape once it reaches DeKalb Avenue and eventually connect to Reynoldstown and Cabbagetown on the other side of Hulsey Yard. Davidson says local design firm Perkins+Will is currently planning a 1.5-mile extension of the eastside trail from DeKalb Avenue to Glenwood Avenue. City and project officials hope a federal grant will help pay for that route — as well as trail extensions in southwest Atlanta that would ultimately connect University Avenue to Washington Park.

NOTE: This article has been altered to clarify proposed “trail hours.”