The old East Tennessee-Western North Carolina Railroad is doing exactly what it was intended for when it was completed in the late 1800s -- the old line known as Tweetsie is connecting citizens and communities.
This time it's not with a railroad, but with a trail for hiking and biking.
The excitement and dedication shown for its completion is gaining momentum each day. The beginning of the future Tweetsie Trail is marked with a sign to let folks know that it's coming soon; thanks to a local sign company, it will eventually look something like a beautiful artist's rendering.
Snyder Signs will donate the sign to the trail. It joins a list of both businesses and community members who are getting on board for this rails-to-trail project. "The quality and the product that's been placed out there for the community is just going to be a sight to behold, and we wanted to be a part of that," Rod Snyder said.
The Johnson City Public Works department has been hard at work bringing the old rail bed back to life and ready for visitors. "We're doing the basic clearing, and then we've widened the pathway, eliminated the vegetation that encroached, and left about five feet to eight feet. Now it's about 30 feet wide," public works director Phil Pindzola says.
The old rail line makes its meandering way along 10 miles to Elizabethton. Both cities have partnered up to make this a major tourism draw to the region. "This is about as an active committee I've seen in my 35 years. They have just taken and gone with this. They've already raised over $100,000 and they have a whole series of fundraising efforts. They've sold bridges," Pindzola said.
There's a lot more to the old rail line besides recreation; its history will also be a draw for visitors. Again, the community will be involved. "We're talking with some of the area schools about providing information about the mountain ranges, or history of the area, or looking at the geological features that are now more pronounced as we cleared out the vegetation," Pindzola says.
The completion date is set for fall 2014. At the rate they're going, all of the energy from the communities will certainly make that happen.