One of the great outdoor treasures of the North Atlanta area is the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area. Consisting of a series of units from Buford Dam downriver along the Chattahoochee to inside I-285, this unique park is closely tied to the river and offers outdoor recreation opportunities for just about everyone – including some truly great hiking that you never think you’d find in the big city.
When it comes to hiking, it seems that every outdoors enthusiast has a favorite CRNRA unit. In fact, I was talking with a fellow hiker about that just the other day.
“They’re all good,” he said. “But I’ve always been particularly fond of Jones Bridge.”
The Jones Bridge Unit of CRNRA is east of Ga. 400 and is easy to reach via Holcomb Bridge Road and Barnwell Road. Its central feature is, as you might expect, Jones Bridge.
Well, that’s not exactly true. The central feature is really just half of Jones Bridge.
So where’s the other half? That’s a good question.
In the early 19th century, an early area resident named John Martin purchased land on both sides of the river. As it happened, and since the river at that point formed the county boundary, he actually ended up with property in two counties – Fulton and Gwinnett. That becomes significant, as we’ll see in a minute.
What did Martin do with his new land? He eventually operated a ferry there. It was first called Martin’s Ferry but eventually became known as Jones Ferry. In the absence of an actual bridge, it was the only way to cross the river there if you wanted to stay dry in the process.
But progress marches on. In 1904 a bridge was built to replace the ferry. The new bridge was welcomed by the folks who lived in the area, for it provided a quick and easy way to cross.
But the bridge suffered the ravages of time and weather, and by the 1930s it had become unsafe. Neither county wanted to cover the needed repairs and so the bridge was eventually closed.
Today, you can still see the steel framework of half the bridge. It’s on the Fulton County side just upriver from the Jones Bridge Unit’s main parking area. The spidery remains, rusted and aging, seem to float out over the water – and then they simply stop halfway to the other side.
But what happened to the other half of the bridge?
The story goes that sometime in the 1940s, people began to notice workers cutting up and removing sections of the old bridge. Everyone assumed that the work was official. But it turns out that the folks taking the bridge apart were actually stealing it, probably to sell as scrap metal.
They got away with half the bridge, too, but the other half remains there today.
When you visit the Jones Bridge Unit, you can easily see the remains of the old bridge. From the parking area at the far end of the Jones Bridge Unit access road, it’s just a short hike upstream. Believe it: you literally can’t miss the old bridge.
This unit offers some great hiking opportunities too. Two routes come to mind.
One is a fairly short hike which heads upriver from the main parking area to the remains of the old bridge and then loops counterclockwise through the woods and back to the parking area. It’s great for a taste of what CRNRA hiking is like.
The other hiking opportunity at Jones Bridge – the so-called south-end trail system – takes you quite a ways downriver and includes floodplain hiking as well as upland hiking. This is in-and-out hiking which eventually leads to a spiderweb network of interconnecting pathways that offer seemingly limitless hiking opportunities. All sorts of routes are possible there. Just remember that with so many options on the south end trails, it’s easy to lose track of time. You don’t want to be late for supper!