Rails-To-Trails Task Force moves forward with Tweetsie Trail name

Tony Casey • Aug 27, 2013 at 11:49 AM

The Rails-to-Trails Task Force learned Monday at its monthly meeting that it will be able to move forward with the trail name they’d hoped was available.

Former mayor and Johnson City commission member Steve Darden said that through discussion with the Blowing Rock, N.C., amusement park Tweetsie Railroad, it would not present any legal issue if the recreational trail was named the Tweetsie Trail.

“I’m pleased to report no obstacle in choosing The Tweetsie Trail, without any encroachment of Tweetsie Railroad,” Darden said.

Immediately after the announcement, the group took a quick vote to recommend that as the official name of the trail, and all were in favor.

With the new name in place, chairman Dr. Dan Schumaier announced using a special donation from Marcus Ledbetter of IDT Interactive. He and his team will build the project a website at no cost. The group plans on having the site be linked from the city of Johnson City’s website.

Ledbetter presented a website model that would serve as a guide to how the Tweetsie Trail’s page would look. It can be seen at www.ridethehiawatha.com. He said that if the website can corral vistors to the trail in Johnson City, it can help bring visitor revenue. The task force went through a vote to either go with Ledbetter’s idea of building a new website or, using the recommendation of task force member Kenneth Gough, to use and revamp a page that already exists through another web service.

Task force member Mike Mefford asked Ledbetter if he thought it would be a better idea to spruce up an existing site, or build a new one from “the ground up” to use as the project moves forward. Ledbetter cited the existing site’s difficulties with restrictions on posting, potential security issues and the time it would take to train those who might control and post on the site as reason to build a new site.

Mefford suggested that Ledbetter and his team build a mock-up version of the site to show to the group at the next meeting, and the group soon thereafter voted to build a new site rather than go with an old one.

With that came the issue of naming the new website.

Schumaier noted that www.tweetsietrail.com is available for purchase, but has a current asking price of $1,500. While buying a new website name usually costs around $10, with Ledbetter’s recommendation, Schumaier will look to see if they can purchase the name for a lower rate.

“It’s worth paying more than $10 for,” Ledbetter said. “But not $1,500.” He said they’d be doing OK if they spend up to “a couple hundred bucks” on it, noting its value in branding the trail. If the price tag is too steep, or if they decide to go with another option, they could settle on www.tweetsietrailtn.com.

The details on who would maintain the site after it was build remained unclear, but Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin seemed suggestive that the city might be able to help update the site, given its value to the area.

Whether or not the website would be able to accept direct secure donations for the project will also be determined at a later date, as it would require more security. There’s also the option of going with a third-party company, like PayPal, to accept money.

Donations were also a topic for the group, as Schumaier stressed the project not taking state or federal funds. He said the money needed to be brought in another way, and that a restrictive capital account had been established for those who want to donate money to the project and the project alone, and be able to use it as a tax write-off.

For non-monetary donations, the group has had success in securing, as Schumaier put it, “donations in kind,” which would include companies donating materials at cost, which would also allow them the option of a write-off, for the value of the materials.

Darden still sees a target opening date of Labor Day 2014, but for the trail portion only. Collectively, there are plans to bring together trails from East Tennessee State University, Tipton-Haynes and Sycamore Shoals to the Tweetsie. Until construction issues are resolved, especially around downtown Johnson City, alternative routes may be used to get people to the trailhead on Alabama Street.

While it seems horse-related activities will not be allowed on the trail, Vice Mayor Clayton Stout sees promise in promoting events and activities including bird watching, hikes from the senior center, business outings, Boy and Girl Scout meetings and possibly running and bike races, if logistics can be locked down.

Carter County Sheriff Chris Mathes promoted an option to help maintain a large portion of the trail — low-risk and sometimes highly skilled prisoners to help maintain the trail.

According to an engineer company involved with the project, Tysinger Hampton & Partners, current estimates for the total cost of the project are sitting at $530,000, with a material cost of just more than $220,000.

The next task force meeting is scheduled for Sept. 23 at 5:30 p.m. in the Administrative Conference Room of the Municipal and Safety Building, where topics of discussion should relate to a path from Tipton-Haynes to the trail, a focus on fundraising and security for the trail.

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