Recently, though, due to the efforts of trail organizers and professors at East Tennessee State University, the 10-mile recreational trail between Johnson City and Elizabethton has become an educational stop for students of birding, tree biology, geology, regional railroad and Appalachian history.
Dr. Fred Alsop, ETSU biology professor and faculty representative on the school’s Board of Trustees, first suggested the trail needed interpretive markers.
From there, geosciences professor Dr. Mick Whitelaw, biology professor Dr. Tim McDowell and Appalachian Studies professor Dr. Ron Roach got involved to make the Tweetsie Trail as informative as it is scenic and user-friendly. Initially, in 2015, Johnson City’s Director of Public Works Phil Pindzola helped get approximately 10 markers put out on the trail, but more recently 12 additional markers were spaced out evenly along the trail between U.S. Highway 321 and the Bemberg Station in Elizabethton.
The signs stand at mile markers 1, 2.2, 3.6, 4.1, 4.3, 4.9, 5.8 and 6.4. Because of the accessibility from so many different points, Roach said people of all physical abilities can get to the markers without putting too much stress on their bodies.
“I think just about every one of the markers will contain some gem of information that most people don’t know about,” Roach said.
The marker at Catbird Creek, for example, identifies the Robertson home, site of the first court in Washington County and also the place where a mysterious rider delivered a threat to the settlers from the British in July 1776.
Another few examples include the marker around Powder Branch, where gunpowder maker Mary Patton, an early female entrepreneur among European settlers, helped with the decisive victory at King’s Mountain. At 2.2 miles, a marker highlights the “gandy dancers,” the mostly African-American and Eastern European workers who built and maintained the railroads.
Roach admires the way Johnson City purchased this former railroad line and turned it into a multi-use amenity for the region and a draw for tourists outside East Tennessee.
“The Tweetsie Trail is one of the best examples anywhere of how a public-private partnership can repurpose a piece of our industrial history to create a resource that really improves the quality of life in the region,” he said. “This trail is bringing together people of all ages and linking the communities of Elizabethton and Johnson City in exciting ways. Instead of passing each other on the highway, people are getting outdoors and stopping to talk to one another on the trail.”
Dan Reese was one of the members of the Tweetsie Trail task force before it became a 501(c)(3) conservancy.
As someone who spends a lot of time on the trail, Reese said he’s thrilled to see so much use of the markers along the trail.
The area around the quarry — at just before the 3-mile mark of the trail — is the most popular meeting and resting spot, Reese said. But it wouldn’t be as accommodating for trail users if it wasn’t for the likes of Roach and the other ETSU professors who sought to fill out the trail with information.
Don’t expect the growing list of the Tweetsie Trail’s amenities to cease. Pindzola said the city will continue adding different aspects and functions to the trail when possible.
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