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The Tweetsie Trail to Elizabethton, and, perhaps, beyond

Tony Casey • Updated Sep 4, 2015 at 4:59 PM

A lot of ribbon cutting events come at the end of a project.

But while a Friday ceremony included Johnson City and Elizabethton leaders and members of the Tweetsie Trail task force talking about about all they’d accomplished over the past two years in planning and building the 10-mile recreational trail, their words seemed to suggest they had their eyes focused a little higher.

Higher, as in Roan Mountain.

“The state needs to look at the impact on the quality of life around here,” said Johnson City Director of Public Works Phil Pindzola, who, along with his department, received sentiments of praise during the event with his peers saying the trail could not have been completed without his help.

Pindzola recommends Tennessee help pay for the trail to climb to Roan Mountain. He said it’s not going to be cheap, but that the state has the funds.

On a recent trip to Austria and Italy, Pindzola saw many trails similar to the Tweetsie in neighborhoods all across those countries, noting they were extremely well used and popular.

Johnson City’s ownership runs on the former East Tennessee & Western North Carolina “Tweetsie” railroad section between Johnson City’s Alabama Street and just by Elizabethton’s Hatcher Lane. Pindzola was joined by 14 other community and business leaders in overseeing planning, fundraising and construction of the trail, with shovels hitting dirt officially in the very beginning of 2014. After just eight months of construction, 7.2 miles of the trail was completed and ready for use, with walkers, joggers and cyclists able to go from Johnson City all the way to Holly Street in Elizabethton.

This section contained several bridges, large and small, that need revamping before traffic could once again roll on the Tweetsie. Pindzola said getting that first section out of the way was an important part because Elizabethton’s side only had one small bridge and was relatively easy compared to the first seven-plus miles.

With Tweetsie Trail activities planned today — including a non-competitive race between Elizabethton Mayor Curt Alexander and former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden — the trail is completed all the way through Hatcher Lane.

The popularity of the trail is something that’s taken the members of the task force by surprise. As several of them took turns speaking to the crowd, they noted how the trail’s taken off.

“As someone who drives by the trail every day on my way to work, and I sit about 10 feet from the trail and watch it from my office, and someone who frequents both towns a lot, I can already see how much usage and benefit is being derived from this trail already,” Grant Summers said. “From the Trek store in Johnson City to Smokehouse Barbecue to Betsy Bikes and to J’s Corner putting up bike racks.”

Summers, who spoke on behalf of Dr. Dan Schumaier, the task force’s chairman, said he was happy to see people getting out to be healthier and enjoying the local scenery.

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson, Elizabethton pro-tem Mayor Bill Carter, Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey, Darden and Alexander all spoke.

Peterson asked the crowd and leaders to continue working together through projects like the Tweetsie.

If the trail were to see an add-on take it to Roan Mountain, Johnson City leaders on the task force have said it would come through a cooperation between the 501c3 Tweetsie Trail Conservancy, which is being developed and Carter County and Elizabethton leaders like member Ken Gouge, who had worked with Elizabethton’s Mike Mains, the director of parks and recreation, in putting together the Labor Day weekend celebration and activities.

Email Tony Casey at [email protected]. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.

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