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Full steam ahead for Tweetsie Trail

March 9th, 2014 9:32 pm by Tony Casey

Full steam ahead for Tweetsie Trail

The bridge located over Sinking Creek near Rich Acres Road and Miami Drive is part of the Tweetsie Trail. (Lee Talbert/Johnson City Press)

A construction report from Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola left jaws on the floor at Tuesday night’s monthly Rails-to-Trails task force meeting.

The slide show, which was an updated virtual spin down the 10-mile stretch between Alabama Street in Johnson City and Elizabethon, gave a peep at just how much progress had been made in making way for the Labor Day opening of the trail.

“It’s been amazing to live over there and see the progress that’s been made,” said member Kenneth Gough, an advocate for the Elizabethton side of the project. After getting onto the trail before the new year, Pindzola’s crews have made way in clearing and putting rocks on big parking lot space at the beginning of the trail, and clearing, grading, and packing the rock surface down toward Elizabethon.

“This gives you an idea of the clearing, it’s pretty significant,” said Pindzola, showing pictures of how crews widened the space around the trail to sometimes 15 feet. “What we’re trying to do is get it so you can see the mountains.”

Sinkholes, dumped couches and trash, overhanging trees, out-of-control ditches and more are all no match for the Pindzola’s crews in the pursuit of having their side of Phase I of the project wrapped up by June. There’s still a lot of work to be done on the bridges along the trail, some of which will be bid out to contractors, but the width of the trail is in the clear. Pindzola said they’ve removed more than 100 tons of debris.

“I don’t know how many dump trucks full of litter we took out,” Pindzola said.

The progress has been so staggering, it drew questions from present City Commissioner Clayton Stout, wondering how much of the city’s efforts were spent on this project alone.

“This is important, but we need to be balanced,” Stout said in regard to other projects around Johnson City. Pindzola insisted he only uses a few men at a time when working on the trail, but says things have been going according to plan, earning a nod of approval from task force members.

One section to put a specific recreational focus on the trail will be around the quarry, about three miles from the beginning, where Pindzola explained how the addition of picnic tables, benches and places to park bicycles will enhance the trail.

Donations in kind, in the form of labor and supplies, have poured in as well to aid in the work on the bridges. The work to fix the bridge over Buffalo Creek, valued at around $15,000, has been donated by Burleson Construction, as well as the $5,000 construction of the bridge over Gap Creek that will be donated by Mitch Cox Construction, eliminating costs for two of the seven bridges.

Pindzola said two other bridges, including the one spanning Milligan Highway, will be bid out. In the midst of all the good news, some issues brought up by Pindzola included receiving help from Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes’ inmate crews in combating some of the trash around the quarry site, which continues to be used as a dumping spot. If the trash collectors could collect all the waste in one spot, Pindzola offered to go and pick it up, as well as use some of the railroad ties to block the entrances near the parts of the trail where trash has been dumped.

Task force member Dr. Fred Alsop said he liked the idea of setting up a few trail cameras to try to catch the license plate numbers of people using the trail as a dumping ground.

Another concern voiced was the public walking and running on the trail before it has been cleared by the city. Task force member Ray Flynn and others involved said they wouldn’t want to necessarily charge someone with trespassing on the trail, saying that would deter from the spirit of getting people on the trail.

Stout said the last thing the city wants is someone to get hurt on one of the unfinished bridges while exploring the trail, and recommended some kind of barrier at the ends of the most dangerous bridges, like orange mesh fencing to go with the signs that only give permission to use by authorized individuals.

Elizabethton’s Charles Laporte said he admired watching the level of progress made on the trail, and welcomed every inch the city was able to revitalize toward Elizabethton.

“Welcome to Elizabethton,” Laporte told the group. “You can’t come far enough into Elizabethton without grading stoning.”

A representative from the local Boy Scouts said they have high hopes to use the trail for their organization and plans to be on the trail as soon as it opens, and asked permission to use the trail’s logo with the Scouts. The task force had no qualms about that.

“For this community, it’s a win-win to see Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts walking and using the trail,” chairman Dr. Dan Schumaier said.

For more information on the Tweetsie Trail, find its Facebook page or check out the project’s website at www.tweetsietrail.com.

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