Johnson City Director of Public Works Phil Pindzola said the Tweetsie Trail is not yet ready for horses travel it without damaging the trail. (Photos by Tony Casey/Johnson City Press)
The recent addition of thousands of pounds of chat, or fine crushed stone, to surface the first six plus miles of a multi-use recreational trail show that many have been out to see how far the Rails-to-Trails project has come.
Running and walking shoeprints aren’t the only signs of us, but horse hoofprints are also apparent in the freshly dropped chat, upsetting Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola, who is overseeing construction of the project using city workers and private companies to aid in the building.
Allowing horses on the trail, known as the Tweetsie Trail, in reference to its regional railroad history, has been a point of contention since the trail began to come together in the last year. There’s supporters of horses and people against the idea of having such weighty creatures on the trail with them.
Lori Curry, of Johnson City, keeps her horse in a local stable and says it’s quite a hassle to get everything loaded up to drive to the Virginia Creeper Trail to ride. She’s excited at possibly being able to drive 10 minutes rather than an hour to ride.
“I’m really excited about the trail and that they will allow horses and bikes and people all at the same time,” Curry said.
She can’t think of a reason why the trail wouldn’t be made available to horses, adding to the convenience of having a trail right here in Johnson City, saying that all involved — runners, walkers, bikers and horseback riders — can work together and share the trail and that if one of the seven bridges becomes clogged, then the person who was on the bridge first should get the chance to proceed.
As for the droppings, she said as someone who uses the Creeper Trail, she assumes all horse droppings are picked up by whoever maintains the trail.
While Curry and other advocates for horses on the Tweetsie Trail might not be able to come up with a reason why horses shouldn’t be allowed, Pindzola certainly can, having seen parts of the Tweetsie literally crumble in just the first few weeks in which the trail has been covered with chat.
“That is very disrespectful,” Pindzola said. “People on there, knowing it’s damaging the trail.”
He wasn’t referring to the people who have run and walked the trail ahead of its Labor Day official opening, saying the human foot traffic isn’t doing the damage. Prohibiting foot traffic at this point is something the city would have difficulty enforcing, Pindzola said.
Someone has already brought horses onto the trail near the fifth and six bridges, crumbling the soft surface before its had time to harden, Pindzola said.
For that, Pindzola said he’s already in the process of having “No Horses Allowed” signs made for the trail, which runs between Johnson City’s Alabama Street to near Sycamore Shoals in Elizabethton. He doesn’t know if the signs will stay there permanently, but he does question whether the trail can withstand horse traffic.
“It would be a nice amenity to have if it can handle the horse traffic,” Pindzola said, going on to say the topic is still up for debate. “We’re not sure if the sure if the trail will be hardened enough to handle horses.”
The idea will go before the Rails-to-Trails task force today at 5:30 p.m. in the group’s monthly meeting, but Pindzola’s immediate objective is to repair the damaged spots and make sure more horses aren’t on the trail in the surface’s hardening phase.
Tom McCormack, a local runner, said he and his wife recently went out to take photos of the up-and-coming trail and noticed rather deep divots made by horses’ hooves.
“I don’t have a problem with horses in general, but if you mix horses with runners and joggers, there’s some safety issues,” McCormack said. “I sure don’t want to have to deal with the safety issues. I noticed the horse tracks. If you step in one of those divots, it’s going to injure someone.”
McCormack said he doesn’t think it’s conducive to have horses and people mix in such a tight space, not to mention issues related to where horse trailers would be parked and who would pick up the droppings.
For more information on the trail, go to the project’s official website at www.tweetsietrail.com.
Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.