The Rails-to-Trails task force was operating at full speed Monday night at its monthly meeting.
The group, designated to develop the former railroad track between Johnson City and Elizabethton now known as The Tweetsie Trail, is set on holding to its goal of having a fundraising drive, accompanied by a new logo, kicked off by mid-November.
Fundraising is the key for the project. Dr. Dan Schumaier, chairman of the task force, reported the project’s current funds at $135,000, and a goal for their fundraising campaign of $230,000, which would give them $365,000 of the $530,000 estimated total cost.
But depending on how they tackle the fundraising portion of the project, there could be more money coming in. The city initially gave the project $100,000, and said there’s a chance they could receive the same thing next year. Aside from that, depending on how much money they’re able to drum up from donors, they could land even more capital.
Committee member Mike Mefford, who’s taken on the tasks of marketing and finance for the project, presented numbers to the group that had varying levels of sponsorship. The numbers are subject to change, but Mefford showed how certain donation levels could earn sponsors a shout-out on the trail’s website, a brick on the trail, chat to be spread on the trail, a bench on the trail or sponsorship of one of the several bridges on the trail at the highest amount.
Each of the bridges on the trail is different in length and the amount of sponsorship it would take for each bridge will be determined. The committee was in nearly full agreement in not pricing the bridges for too little, as they very well could become a point of pride for donors, being something upon which they could put their names.
The question was raised about one of the bridges, the longest one crossing Milligan Highway, and it being used as something like advertising for its future sponsor, but Johnson City public works director Phil Pindzola squashed that idea as something they could not do.
Member Kenneth Gough thought they might end up having trouble finding sponsors for the most expensive level, but was countered by Schumaier.
“We do have some pretty big fish out there, Ken,” Schumaier said.
Ray Flynn agreed, saying he thinks the committee should keep the bridges at an elevated level for the top-tier donors.
The committee seemed confident in being able to raise their necessary funds, including the possibility of raising more than anticipated if they surpassed their goals for lower-level sponsorship in the website shout-out section. They plan on personally grouping themselves to approach potential donors for funds.
Much like downtown Johnson City did with its recently picked logo, the task force plans on organizing a contest to come up with the best logo for the trail, and possibly letting online voting decide the winner. Once the logo has been chosen, the group will plan to move forward with marketing.
Mefford will be looking into costs in regards to sending out brochures and literature about the trail to potential donors. They might also look into the idea of having a bumper sticker for people who have donated, something they said could generate the pride that might make more people donate.
Past meetings have come to the conclusion that horses would not be a part of the trail, but local horseback riders spoke up in front of the task force to ask them to reconsider their stance on horses. Past concerns had been raised about horse droppings, how the horses will react on wooden bridges over the Milligan Highway, where horse trailers would be parked, and what would happen if a horse were to be spooked by a bicyclist, runner or hiker.
A property owner on the trail, Bill Tetrick, emotionally asked the board to reconsider, citing the economic benefits it would have on the trail to allow horses. He said Tennessee is the third-most horseback riding state in the country behind California and Texas, and disallowing this activity would negatively affect tourists traveling to the trail.
The group agreed to look into the matter, taking all things into consideration before making a decision on the horse matter.
Carter County sheriff Chris Mathes discussed security issues with the committee, specifically the use of all-terrain vehicle in cases of emergencies on the trail. It was determined that sections of the trail would be wide enough for ATVs to be used, if needed.
Mathes and Pindzola agreed on getting an inmate crew together to clean up recently dumped garbage, furniture, and tree overgrowth cluttering parts of the trail. A quarry bordering a section of the trail in between Milligan Highway and Happy Valley school was also a point of concern for the sheriff. He stressed the committee being very diligent in securing the areas around the quarry, which the group promised was always their intention.
Another security issue brought up by Gough is the Sparks Road crossing. Gough asked Mathes about possibly closing the road altogether, saying how dangerous it would be for users of the trail, especially cyclists.
“Drivers wouldn’t be able to see them,” Gough said. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”
For future plans, the group will schedule a hike on the trail to have members getting a better look at certain portions of the trail. They’ve appointed Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin, Elizabethon city council member William Carter, Daniel Reese and Fred Alsop to plan a list of potential rules for the project before the next meeting Oct. 29 at 5:30 in the Administrative Conference Room of the Municipal and Safety Building.