By Ashley Rader
Construction on the first phase of the new Tweetsie Trail from Johnson City to Elizabethton will begin next month and is expected to be completed by Labor Day 2014.
The Tweetsie Trail will ultimately be a 10-mile rail-to-trail that starts near Cardinal Park in Johnson City and follows the old Tweetsie railroad line into Elizabethton and through the city, ending near Snap-On Tools when finished.
Tweetsie Trail Task Force board member Kenneth Gough said work on the first phase, the six-mile stretch from the starting point on Alabama Street in Johnson City to Sycamore Shoals State Park in Elizabethton, would begin in January.
With a completion date of Labor Day 2014 set, he said that left a short time frame for crews to finish the first section.
“We are going to build this with all-local resources,” Gough said. “It is going to be done at half the cost in half the time. That leaves us eight to nine months to get the core section done and it will happen.”
Gough explained the trail would initially be “bare bones” with a gravel surface that follows the existing rail bed infrastructure that is already in place. The bridges and street crossings will be upgraded for improved safety.
He noted that one Elizabethton family, Bill and Julie Tetrick, had made the largest contribution so far to the Tweetsie Trail by “buying” the bridge over Buffalo Creek near Lions Field in Elizabethton to help cover the costs of improvement to that structure.
“The trail adjoins our property,” Julie Tetrick said. “It is a good community project to be a part of. We would like to be able to use the rural portions of the trail for our horses.”
Gough said the project was relying on donations like these from the public and other organizations to help cover the costs of the trail.
Since the project started, the city of Johnson City has spent $600,000 to buy the railroad bed, $100,000 for the master plan and $60,000 for engineering. Gough said more was budgeted for the project, and that there were many “man hours” focused on the Tweetsie Trail plan, but donations would be needed to put the finishing touches on the project.
“Johnson City has committed resources to the project, but frankly it is not enough,” Gough said. “We need people to donate money, time, expertise and materials. This would be a good project for clubs and organizations. We will progress to the other phases but when that happens does depend on fundraising and how much the community insists on it.”
Gough said the task force realizes the budgets for the city of Elizabethton and Carter County would be tight, but thought contributions could come from other sources.
“More so than money, we are seeking in-kind donations, use of crews or materials to complete the trail,” he said.