By Ashley Rader
Going out for a walk might involve a trek to Johnson City and back for some after the Rails to Trails project connecting
Elizabethton and Johnson City is ready for use.
The rails to trails project, unofficially referred to by some as the Tweetsie Trail, will provide a 10-mile walking and biking pathway between the two cities. The trail will follow the old railroad bed of the East Tennessee Railway from Legion Street in Johnson City to the Stateline Drive-in theater on Stateline Road in Elizabethton.
Elizabethton officials believe the trail provides an opportunity to connect with the already existing trail system in Elizabethton to benefit individuals and to expand economic development activities.
“I think it is a great opportunity,” said Elizabethton City Manager Jerome Kitchens.
Kitchens said the city would first focus on completing the Linear Path, which will extend from East Side Elementary to Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area when completed. Once the trail is completed, the city will be able to connect it to the rails to trails project at the future traffic light to be installed at Williams Avenue and West Elk Avenue.
There are two unfinished sections of the Linear Path, one to connect from Mill Street to Riverside Park and the other from behind Lowe’s to Sycamore Shoals. The funding to complete the Linear Path has been included in this year’s budget for the city.
“When it is complete, if someone was on the Linear Path, they could cut over to the Tweetsie Trail,” Kitchens said.
Thursday night, the Johnson City Commission approved a $40,000 proposal from Tysinger, Hampton & Partners for construction drawings and design plans for seven bridges along the pathway. One of those bridges is located in the city limits.
Johnson City City Manager Pete Peterson said Johnson City was forming a task force to oversee the rails-to-trails project, which would include a member from Elizabethton. He said the rail company had until July to remove all the railroad ties, rails and have street crossings repaired and would then turn the property over to Johnson City.
Once the design plans are complete, Johnson City will be able to put the trail project out to bid.
“The first thing we want to do is get it safe,” Peterson said. “Once we have the safety issues addressed, people will be able to use the trail.”
The trail would start with the basics. It would be a gravel path and would be completed in phases, starting in Johnson City. After the trail is opening, Johnson City will then start looking at adding the extra amenities along the trail, like landscaping and rest areas.
Peterson said the inspection and design phase would take two to three months and would need to be completed before construction could begin. Construction is expected to last several months.
“It could be this time next year before the trail is open to the public,” Peterson said.
Once the trail is completed, Elizabethton leaders believe the pathway will bring a positive impact to the city.