Plans in the works for Pinnacle Fire Tower and Erwin Linear trail connector

Sue Guinn Legg • Sep 12, 2019 at 10:21 PM

ERWIN — Officials with the towns of Erwin and Unicoi got their first look Thursday at preliminary designs for a pedestrian and bike trail to link the towns’ popular Pinnacle Fire Tower Trail in Unicoi and the Erwin Linear Trail.

The designs included two alternate routes along Zane Whitson Road and Highway 107, running the approximate 4.5-mile distance between the two existing trails, several outlying sidewalk loops through the central town districts and several alternate construction features.

Chris Kirby with the Knoxville office of the design firm CDM Smith said input gathered at Thursday’s presentation of the proposed designs at Erwin Town Hall and at a similar meeting to be conducted later in Unicoi will be used to draft a final design for the connector trail to be completed by the end of September.

The final plan will then be presented to the towns’ governing boards for approval and will then be available for use in leveraging Tennessee Department of Transportation and other grant funding available to build the trail in phases over a period of years.

The designs were likewise paid for with a $90,000 TDOT grant that required a 10 percent, or $9,000, grant match that was paid in equal shares of $4,500 during the towns’ past budget year.

While Unicoi County was also included in the original TDOT grant, County Commission voted earlier this year not to expend any money toward the grant match for a one-mile stretch of the connector trail that lies between Erwin and Unicoi’s corporate limits.

Kirby told the Erwin board the plan will provide solid leverage for pursuit of additional TDOT and other grant available funding for the project.

Erwin Mayor Doris Hensley noted that once the towns select and approve a final design for trail, they must be prepared to follow through. “If we do it, it will be here forever. So we have to be ready to go for that grant,” she said.

Kirby told the officials, for the current planning phase of the project, TDOT requires the towns agree (on a plan) and to go forward over time.”

“It’s a really big deal to have a trail connecting two communities,” he said. “You can think of this eventually going on to Johnson City and the economic potential.

“The benefit is the access of the two communities, all the beautiful natural resources you have and you have the Appalachian Trail. The end I see in this is access and leverage.”