A news conference will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday at the Alabama Street “trailhead” in Johnson City. The location is southeast of the Memorial Park Community Center between Legion and Maple streets.
“This is our official kickoff for the first phase,” said Dr. Dan Schumaier, Rails-to-Trails Task Force chairman. “We’re anticipating that work will start at the first of the year. We hope that if everybody donates a little bit we can get this finished without using any state or federal money.”
The 10-mile stretch of land still is set to be transformed into East Tennessee’s first “rails-to-trails” project. The task force hopes to raise more than $200,000 for development of the trail. A major funding source will be the purchase of naming rights for seven bridges within the first phase of the project, including naming rights for five shorter bridges at $10,000 per bridge and the remaining two bridges for $30,000 and $60,000 respectively.
There are other ways to donate.
Forty-eight benches will be placed on the first phase of the trail and these can be named in honor of a loved one, to promote a business or simply as a way of supporting the trail and its development for $300. Also, engraved brick pavers will be placed at the Alabama Street and Sycamore Shoals trailheads and are being sold for $100. Other opportunities allow donors to contribute toward the purchase of materials for surfacing the trail ($250), and undesignated donations beginning at $50 are also being accepted.
Once complete, the first phase will offer recreational opportunities along a 6-mile linear trail connecting the Alabama Street trailhead in Johnson City and Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton. The trail, scheduled to be opened by Labor Day weekend next year, will be on land formerly controlled for several decades by the historic ET&WNC railroad and travelled by steam locomotives nicknamed “tweetsie,” because of their shrill whistles, by local residents.