When construction begins on the Tweetsie Trail today, Johnson City workers won’t stop until the project is complete, public works director Phil Pindzola said.
At the last Rails to Trails task force meeting, chairman Dr. Dan Schumaier said construction would begin after the start of the new year, but with how smoothly things are working with the project, crews are getting a bit of an early jump.
The trail will ultimately run 10 miles from Alabama Street, just off Legion Street in Johnson City, and stretch to Elizabethton. It was purchased from the parent company of East Tennessee Railway, Genesee & Wyoming, for $600,000.
Future plans include tying in local historic spots like Tipton Haynes, Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area and possibly the Veterans Affairs campus. It’s with the groundwork, and the initial trail that will generate more enthusiasm behind the project, Pindzola said.
Once the community sees the recreational trail for what it is, extremely accessible and user-friendly, more support will flood in, he said. And support hasn’t been an issue lately. Through the task force’s efforts, donations and progress has been plentiful. Initially, there were seven different-sized bridges available for naming rights at different donation levels, and only one of those bridges is still available.
The price mark for that bridge, the largest, sits at $60,000. It spans the Milligan Highway.
In working on the bridges, Pindzola said, the plan is to bid them out to contractors to see who does the work.
The task force voted to adopt the name Tweetsie Trail officially after the Tweetsie Railroad amusement park in North Carolina offered its permission as long as the railroad name isn’t used. From there, the group voted to buy the web address www.tweetsietrail.com. Striped across the top banner of the website is a declaration that the trail will be open on Labor Day.
Pindzola said fully clearing the trail will take priority as the first endeavor for the city, and after that, they can move their efforts to work on some drainage issues along the trail. Then they’ll be able to rock the trail with small crushed stone. With the drainage problem, Pindzola said they might have to pay extra attention to one particular embankment spot, but otherwise things are set to move swiftly.
Another portion that will get focused attention will be the quarry that sits next to the trail a few miles outside of Johnson City. Pindzola said there will be railing and an observation deck made for the area, although it will not hang over the water.
Pindzola said the committee has temporarily tabled the decision on whether horses will be allowed on the trail, due to the logistics of the issue. He said they would need to weigh out the possibility against how to make it worthwhile for horse riders.
Like the topic of horses, a few issues on the trail have yet to be determined, including general upkeep and maintenance and who will carry out those tasks. It’s been presented that inmates from local jails might be able to offer their services, but Pindzola said he doesn’t think they’d be needed in the initial construction of the trail, but maybe in maintenance that will come with the trail’s completion.
There are plans to use old railroad ties to make barriers at each road intersection to keep vehicles off the trail, as well as model mile markers from the variety used on the original Tweetsie Railroad line.
Ray Flynn, another task force member, sees the project as a huge potential boon for the area. Many cities, Flynn said, overlook providing a basic recreational trail for runners, walkers and cyclists, and that’s a great oversight, especially with a nationwide problem with obesity.
He said a trail like this has been needed for a long time, and, looking at it from a runner’s perspective, he’s excited to have a nearly pancake path for running, as opposed to other local running spots that are extremely hilly.
With tying in the historical sides of things, and with relatively little overall work to accomplish, he said this sort of project will do a great deal for the local community and continued growth of nearby downtown businesses.
“Once people see the initial trail, they’ll want more,” he said. “Great things are coming.”