Tony Duncan/Johnson City Press
Shovels hit the ground Wednesday kicking off the first phase of East Tennessee’s first “Rails-to-Trails” project — the Tweetsie Trail — a 10-mile pedestrian-friendly path from Johnson City to Elizabethton.
The commotion lasted about 30 minutes and included Rails-to-Trails Task Force members, officials from both cities, contributors and about 50 additional guests attended the groundbreaking at an area that will become the project’s main trail head at Alabama and Legion streets in Johnson City.
A press conference at the site signaled the start of a fundraising effort in which a goal of $200,000 has been set for completion of the initial phase, as well as news of recent donations totaling $60,000 for the naming rights of four of the seven bridges along the route.
Bill Tetrick, who owns Elizabethton’s Happy Valley Memorial Park cemetery as well as personal property where he and his family maintain a horse farm, donated $30,000 for the naming rights to a large bridge over Buffalo Creek.
Task Force Chairman Dr. Dan Schumaier, a local audiologist, Preston McKee, owner of Morris-Baker Funeral Home, and Reneau Dubberley, a bicycle enthusiast, each donated $10,000 for the naming rights to three smaller bridges on the route.
“The trail goes right through our personal property and the cemetery as well,” Tetrick said following a brief news conference. “We’ve always been interested in this trail. I think it will be a great thing for the entire community. Me and my wife and daughter have walked it and ridden horses on the route several times.”
The Tweetsie Trail’s first section will offer recreational opportunities along a 6-mile linear trail connecting the Alabama Street trail head in Johnson City and Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area in Elizabethton. The task force has raised about $135,000 so far, and the estimated construction cost for the entire project is about $530,000.
Schumaier said task force members would be mailing and otherwise distributing brochures to the public that include information on the project and opportunities to contribute. The group also has acquired a website and is working top get it up and running. Folks should soon be able to visit www.tweetsietrail.com for information.
“It’s a tremendously important project for both Johnson City and Elizabethton,” said Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin. “We’re kicking off today a 6-mile section which will be constructed entirely with private donations.
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.
“My wife has a rail-trail in her home town in Ohio, and when we heard about this we set aside the money to contribute,” McKee said. “To me the whole concept was a no-brainer. I’ve consistently seen positive repercussions from projects like this.”
There are six rail bridges on the line, with a mix of concrete, steel and timber, the largest of which crosses Tenn. Highway 67/U.S. Highway 321 and two bridges dating back to the late 1940s. These bridges are located in Johnson City. Two rail bridges cross streams in Elizabethton with one being located near Buffalo Creek and the other being located near the Southeast Ford dealership adjacent to Gap Creek Road.
Questions can be directed to Schumaier at 914-1863, Mike Mefford at 943-649 or Steve Darden at 283-6303.