Notes on horses, signs and departed friends

Robert Houk • Aug 23, 2015 at 12:00 AM

A few notes and observations from a political pundit’s notebook. I begin with the remarkable progress that has been made in the development of the Tweetsie Trail.

The first trek of the trail from Johnson City to Elizabethton was officially opened last September, and the next section through that city is expected to be dedicated on Labor Day. The Tweetsie Trail is being praised for being built on schedule and on budget.

There is, however, one piece of business left unfinished. When it opened last year, there was a clamor over allowing horses on the trail. Those involved with building the trail thought it would be a bad idea to allow horseback riding. They argued it would damage the surface of the trail and could pose safety problems.

Tweetsie Trail officials promised to study the matter and take up the issue in another 12 months. It’s been roughly a year, and I assume trail officials are ready to tackle the issue again.

• Speaking of a year ago, I wrote a column last August reflecting on the then pending relocation of the U-Haul facility in Johnson City. I said its relocation (which has since happened) would mark an end of an era for the downtown area.

Although the old U-Haul building was demolished a few months back, its giant sign still looms large over the downtown landscape. One downtown U-Haul employee told me the sign was seen as a “beacon in the night” by some Johnson City residents.

After the column appeared, I spoke to several readers who informed me they could recall when the large sign read “Giant.” Before U-Haul settled into the facility more than 30 years ago, the building was home to a Giant Foods Market. (Most of those I heard from raved about the supermarket’s bakery.)

Recently, I saw a post on Facebook of a possible re-purposing of the Giant/U-Haul sign. The Photoshopped image shows the sign painted white with fancy lights to illuminate text that reads: “Downtown Johnson City.” It looked as good (if not better) than any other welcome signs in the city.

• Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent proposal to outsource state jobs at Tennessee universities, prisons and parks to the private sector is not new. In the late 1990s, former Republican Gov. Don Sundquist proposed the same for Tennessee prisons.

A test was made to compare the cost savings of a state-run prison versus one managed by a corporation. As I recall, Northeast State Correctional Complex in Mountain City was found to be far more efficient than a facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America.

• Finally, I end this week on a sad note. L. Wayne Musick, who was one of our first Community Voices columnists and a member of our Community Advisory Board, died last week. He wrote often of his experiences in Vietnam and urged other veterans to share their stories with family members and friends. He will be greatly missed by his friends here at the Press.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]

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