Tweetsie Trail to be extended from Elizabethton to Roan Mountain
Published 7:50 am Tuesday, October 6, 2015
Onward, to Roan Mountain!
Members of the Carter County Parks and Recreation Board recently approved a plan to extend the popular Tweetsie Trail from where it now ends in Elizabethton all the way to Roan Mountain.
The Board authorized the Carter County Planning Office and the Highway Department to work together to complete the Trail extension from Hatcher Lane to the Roan Mountain Community Park, which is located just behind the Roan Mountain Post Office on Highway 19E.
“People realized several years ago that this opportunity existed, but there were problems that would require painful compromises,” Parks and Recreation Board Chairman Ken Gough said. “So we’ve compromised and come up with a project that is the first big step in what will be a long-term effort to build a biking and pedestrian trail running all the way from Johnson City to the town of Roan Mountain, and perhaps beyond.”
Elizabethton and Johnson City leaders gathered in September to celebrate the completion of the Trail from Johnson City to Hatcher Lane. But, before that celebration ever took place, County officials were already looking to the future of the Trail.
When community leaders first began discussing the Trail expansion, there were hopes to follow the exact line of the railroad just as the first portion of the Trail does. However, that created some logistics problems for the project due to the need to rebuild old railroad bridges and navigate around a collapsed railroad tunnel.
Additionally, a portion of the old East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad line lies on private property that is home to the Doe River Gorge Christian Camp.
The proposed route for the Trail extension follows the line of the Tweetsie “as closely as practical” using existing roads, Gough said. The expansion of the Trail from Hatcher Lane to the Roan Mountain Community Park will add 16.5 miles to the Trail, bringing its overall length to 26.5 miles. By comparison, the popular Virginia Creeper Trail in southwest Virginia is 35 miles long.
From Hatcher Lane, the route for the Trail will follow Stateline Road to Highway 19E. The Trail will proceed along 19E into Hampton, where it will turn onto Rittertown Road, already a state-designated bike route.
The Trail will then travel the length of Rittertown Road and return to 19E just above Hampton. The Trail will once again follow 19E for a distance before turning onto Bear Cage Road just beyond the Tiger Creek Community.
Bear Cage Road will lead cyclists to the Doe River, just above the southern entrance to the Doe River Gorge. After crossing the river, the Trail will follow Old Railroad Grade Road along the river to the road’s end near Roan Mountain. The Trail will then cross over 19E onto Crabtree Road and follow it until it rejoins the highway. From there, the Trail will continue along 19E all the way to the Roan Mountain Community Park.
By necessity, the Trail will bypass one of the most scenic portions of the old line — the Doe River Gorge area.
“We studied the situation very carefully and reluctantly concluded that there was no way to do it,” Gough said. “We won’t risk disrupting the operations of Doe River Gorge Christian Camp, and a large landowner has stated flatly that he will not give us a right of way. We can’t and won’t go through the Gorge without everyone’s cooperation. So,for the foreseeable future, we bypass by way of 19E.”
But the Trail will be able to follow a part of the historic rail line for 4 miles along Old Railroad Grade Road, which was built on the old rail bed. That stretch of road is noted for its beauty and is often compared to the Virginia Creeper Trail, Gough said.
Needed repairs on Old Railroad Grade Road have already been completed by the Highway Department, he said. The Planning Office also played a major role in the project and was involved in preparing the plans for the Parks and Recreation Board, Gough added.
Signs and road markings will be installed this winter, and the Trail should be marked and ready in the spring, Gough said.
“In a sense, we’re just formalizing a trail that’s already widely known and used by road cyclists,” Carter County Mayor Leon Humphrey said. “We’re well aware that this is just a first step.”
“There is a lot to be done to make the Trail friendly to hikers and casual cyclists, and that will require time and grant money,” Humphrey added. “But it’s a good first step which wouldn’t have been possible without the completion of the Tweetsie Trail. The folks who made that happen deserve our thanks.”
But, marking the bicycle trail from Hatcher Lane to Roan Mountain is not where plans for the project end, Gough said.
“An early upgrade may be the building of a trail along the Doe River in Roan Mountain. The right-of-way already exists and would allow the trail to avoid US 19E beyond Old Railroad Grade Road,” he said. “19E is narrow going into Roan Mountain, and we’re concerned about safety. This would give us a way to bypass the highway. It’s much prettier and pedestrian-friendly, and it wouldn’t be very expensive. We’ll look at it early next year.”
County Commissioner Mike Hill, who represents the Roan Mountain district, serves as chairman of the Highway Committee and is eager for the project to get underway.
“I am super-excited about the opportunities that will be created for the Roan Mountain and Hampton communities,” Hill said. “I have been a strong advocate of this rails-to-trails initiative, and believe that our towns will reap multiple economic and community building benefits as a result.”