The Tweetsie Trail Task Force will soon ramp up its marketing and fundraising efforts, as the panel approved a measure at its Tuesday meeting to seek donations from businesses throughout the area.
Per the measure, the task force will advertise bids to have personalized letters printed and shipped to more than 6,900 businesses in the region. The letters will include a history of the Tweetsie Railroad line, a description of the Tweetsie trail project, including a new brochure to be printed, and ways the businesses can contribute financially to the trail project.
One of those ways businesses can contribute is to provide $250 toward the trail’s surface. Tweetsie Trail Chairman Dr. Dan Schumaier said businesses making this donation will have their company’s name displayed on a plaque at the trailhead and will receive a free advertisement for their business in the Johnson City News & Neighbor.
Schumaier estimated the cost of printing and shipping the letters would be around $6,000.
“We are going to recoup it, I’ll guarantee you,” he said.
While none of the Task Force members voted against the effort, some questioned the approach. While Clayton Stout said he was not opposed to the letters, he called the effort a “gamble” and said he would like to see follow-up attempts be made after the initial mailing. Ken Gough said he was not sure how effective an unsolicited mailing could be.
“Just to be devil’s advocate, I know I get a lot of fundraising requests and, if there is not a personal follow up or a personal appeal, frankly, they go in the trash,” Gough said.
However, Ray Flynn said more than $86,000 has been raised for the project without a major fundraising effort and that the project has momentum.
“Everywhere I go, people are talking about the trail,” he said. “They want to see it happen and there’s no negative sentiment about it.”
Musician Andy Curtis has also recorded a song about the Tweetsie Railroad, and Schumaier said the song should soon be available for download on the Tweetsie Trail website for 99 cents. Funds raised from this will also go toward the trail project.
To date, $86,003.19 has been donated for the trail project. Schumaier said naming rights to one bridge along the trail route have not yet been sold, but he expects this to be done by the end of the month. He said the project is also slated to receive a $45,000 donation in the future.
When complete, the Tweetsie Trail will be a 10-mile pedestrian friendly path from Johnson City to Elizabethton. The project is East Tennessee’s first “Rails-to-Trails” project, as it calls for the conversion of unused railroad lines that run from Alabama and Legion streets in Johnson City and ending near the State Line Drive-In in Elizabethton into a pedestrian trail.
The trail is slated to open by Labor Day weekend, and plans to commemorate its opening were also discussed Tuesday. Flynn said officials have proposed the idea of holding a “run/walk” event when the trail opens.
“What we want to do is have this run/walk,” Flynn said. “It can be competitive for people who want to do it, but it can be just to get people on the trail. So the two reasons for it are to get people on the trail and to raise money.”
Flynn said the event still requires planning, and he is meeting with a group today to discuss it. Flynn said if the event managed to draw half of the more than 4,000 people that participate in the annual Up & At ‘Em Johnson City Turkey Trot, the event would be a success.
“The main focus is to get people on the trail and have a successful, fun experience, and to launch our Tweetsie Trail,” he said.