Horses bucked off Tweetsie Trail, for now

Tony Casey • Jul 2, 2014 at 6:10 AM

The Rails-to-Trails or Tweetsie Trail task force decided to set many things in stone Tuesday night at its monthly meeting, but banning horses permanently was not one of those things.

While the group decided the style and design of how donors’ names would be immortalized in the bench plaques, bridges and walkways leading up to the bridges, they decided unanimously for those in session to adopt rules that would, among other things, keep horses off the newly surfaced trail for the time being, until it’s seen how well the trail settles in under weather and traffic.

“Let’s get the trail open then look at it,” Dr. Dan Schumaier, the group’s chairman said about how to handle the hotly debated issue.

It might take six months to revisit, it might take more, he said, but the main goal of Schumaier and his fellow group members was to get the trail ready and open for its Labor Day kickoff date and do so as safely as possible. Safety, Schumaier said, is one of the concerns of having horses on the trail, which will extend from Alabama Street in Johnson City to Elizabethton. He said he was a horse owner of 26 years and would be wary to bring his horses over some of the seven bridges along the trail.

Several members of the public who came out to the meeting expressed their displeasure over the task force’s decision, including Bill Tetrick, who said he donated $30,000 to the cause on the assumption that it would be a multi-use trail that would allow horse traffic, before eventually storming out.

Johnson City Public Works Director Phil Pindzola and the board members came to that conclusion after it had been noticed that a horse had recently been taken on the trail, breaking down the recently placed blue crushed stone, leaving noticeable divots that have been referenced by Schumaier as his safety concerns.

This situation brought forth Pindzola’s remarks that signs disallowing horses would be put up immediately. While he acknowledged that people on foot have been on the trail, too, that their footprints weren’t the ones causing all the damage, it was clearly the horse’s marks.

Whitney Bowling, who said she has property along the trail, said she has security cameras pointed at the trail and frequently sees “bums” on the trail.

Task force members Ray Flynn and Grant Summers explained that while the trail was previously overgrown, the work that Pindzola and city crews have done to the trail do nothing but improve its safety and that the surface on the trail is different than the Virginia Creeper Trail.

Bowling contended Schumaier’s claim that horse divots are a safety issue in comparison to a human footprint.

“A man with a sized 13 shoe can walk and make an indention on there,” she said in response to the metal horseshoe divot.

“That helps it,” Schumaier responded. “It’s when you get 1,500 pounds on a small area of it.”

Another decision made by the group would be to extend the first phase of the Johnson City-owned trail farther than was previously agreed, bringing the first portion of the trail down to Holly Street in Elizabethon, near Pal’s. Schumaier said even though this would be an additional $6,000 in costs to Johnson City, it would be very helpful to trail users because it would extend it all the way to where Elizabethton’s downtown sidewalks begin.

That $6,000 was not much of an issue for the group because it would make the first section around 7 full miles of the slated 10 and because the group has seen substantial donation numbers from people giving varying amounts to have their names on the benches, plaques and bridges along the trail. Between monetary donations and donations in kind, those in material and labor, the group has received $168,000.

For more information on the project, go to www.tweetsietrail.com.

Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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