Task force dines around to support trail

Tony Casey • Apr 2, 2014 at 1:11 PM

ELIZABETHTON — The Tweetsie Trail stacked funds one bite at a time Tuesday with the first of two Dine-Around days where participating restaurants were set to give a portion of the take to the project.

The Rails-to-Trails task force held its monthly meeting at the Smokehouse BBQ Company, one of the business involved with the trail fundraiser, and dined as they discussed all matters involved with the Tweetsie Trail, the 10-mile recreational train between Johnson City and Elizabethton, set for a grand opening on Labor Day.

Stephen Frabitore, from Tupelo Honey, which will be opening in Johnson City in the upcoming months, spoke about the collective good the 21 Elizabethton and Johnson City Dine-Around restaurants were doing in putting their heads together to support the cause which could significantly benefit their restaurants by bringing in new, and presumably hungry tourists.

“Restaurants aren’t really in competition with one another,” Frabitore said. “People are all going to go out and eat at restaurants serving different styles of food and not just eat at one place.”

Frabitore said with the many styles of foods in the two cities, there’s a variety from which to choose. Much like he’s seen with restaurants in Asheville, N.C., Johnson City could be looking at the pre-cursor of a restaurant association with the collection of restaurants involved with the Dine-Around event, where the eateries will stay in touch to discuss trends, equipment, and generally talk shop about the restaurant business, all to their own benefit.

Today is set to be the second of the two Dine-Around days, so Frabitore had no idea how much money the event would bring in for the Tweetsie Trail, but was optimistic both in the results and that it could become an annual event.

With bellies full, task force members gave a run-down of how the project was shaping up. Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola showed a slide show of the progress that has been made in the continual grading, grubbing and clearing of the trail, with the parking lot at the Alabama Street entrance nearing completion, as well as one of the longer bridges over Buffalo Creek near Lions Field, which is also almost complete.

Pindzola’s crews have also expanded the size of the area around the quarry section, nearly three miles down the trail from the Alabama Street trailhead. Now, this portion is covered in blue crushed stone where a multitude of benches and informational signage will be put in, with an overlook of the mountain range it faces. Task force member Mike Mefford, of the Rotary Club, says his organization might have even bigger plans for what they call a central location on the trail with the application of a grant that could lead to even bigger things.

Through a collaborative grant that could net the Tweetsie Trail $24,000 worth of construction, the end result could be an open-air pavilion or some other similar structure to highlight that part of the trail.

“It could really turn the quarry into a destination of the trail,” Mefford told the other members, saying that the grant will be in the works, though not guaranteed. If the money is granted, whichever structure the task force approves could make the quarry and overlook a focal point on the trail.

Chairman Dr. Dan Schumaier says he’s been enjoying the progress each every time he tours the trail as well as catching up with the members to see how fundraising and planning is going. Mefford and Schumaier were pleased to announce after 7,000 donation mailers were sent out to possible donors, email feedback has shown the endeavor to worthwhile, with both having to respond to several inquiries about donations each day.

Initially, the idea was to have 60 donors who’ve given $300 a bench with their names on them, but Schumaier said the first 60 benches sold so quickly, he needed to ask permission from the group to order nearly another 30 more, a good problem to have, he said.

His frequent walks on the trail have him excited for the upcoming season and opening of the trail.

“I can’t wait until the leaves come out because it’s going to be really beautiful when it’s enclosed,” Schumaier said.

For more information about the Tweetsie Trail, check out the project’s Facebook page or go to www.tweetsietrail.com.

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