25-mile State of Franklin Loop Trail system in planning stages for next 10 years, to cost between $5-$7 million

Written by Tony Casey (Johnson City Press) 

It’s just a Johnson City Public Works survey on walkability and health.

But its results could change the face of recreation and accessibility to sidewalks, trails, greenways, downtown Johnson City and area businesses.

East Tennessee State University College of Public Health student Cheyenne Peavler, working as an intern for the Johnson City department, helped put together and distribute an online survey that is turning heads across the state.

The point of the survey, on Survey Monkey, titled “JC Public Works Walkability & Health Survey” is to gauge the public’s feelings on the use of sidewalks and trails, public health concerns, physical activity and more, and hints at how it will all come together.

A 25-mile long State of Franklin Loop Trail, adding to existing trail and pavement segments, would link Winged Deer Park, Mountain Home VA, Rocky Mount State Historic Site, The Tweetsie Trail, Boone Lake and along Brush Creek. Along with paved passages for runners, joggers, walkers and cyclists, there would also be a 10-mile section that would mostly go off-road, uninterrupted by vehicle traffic.

Public Works Director Phil Pindzola said the project is estimated to cost between $5 million and $7 million and would be completed in a series of phases over the next 10 years. It would be a part of Johnson City’s capital improvement projects.

Dan Reese worked with Pindzola and their fellow Tweetsie Trail task force members in getting that 10-mile recreational trail connecting Johnson City and Elizabethton up and running. Both have unequivocally said they’ve seen public health attitudes and outcomes improve since the August 2014 opening of the trail, and expect only more of this with the addition of an expanded trail system.

Reese, a consultant sought across the state for his knowledge on trails and accessibility for pedestrians, walkers, joggers, runners and cyclists traveling through their municipalities, said he passed along Peavler’s survey to Bob Richards, who works with him on the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Commissioner's Council on Greenways & Trails.

“This is a great model survey,” Richards told Reese, suggesting it could used in communities across the state.

Peavler said that as of Friday, about 80 people had completed the survey, and by its conclusion, she’d love to have several hundred responses. It’s only available until April 25 and so far, cyclists are the ones who seem to be completing it in the greatest numbers.

At this stage in the game, the survey, among other questions, asks those answering the questions if they’d support a tax increase to pay for the completion of additional sidewalks connecting city neighborhoods or for the completion of the 25-mile trail.

Dave Holben, a member of the Johnson City Cycling Club, said he’s salivating at the thought of a 10-mile, off-road section of trail available to cyclists like himself. But as far as the tax increase goes, he suspects many will respond with something equating to a plea to cut funding for other programs if they want to see public funds go to this project.

Holben points at the many examples of bettered public health he’s seen since the Tweetsie Trail opened.

“I am hearing more and more people that I know who've not been active in the past, talking about getting out and walking and cycling and running on the trail,” he said.

Pindzola said unlike the Tweetsie Trail, which brought in the monetary and in-kind donations of many in the private sector for its completion, the city will not seek the same donations this time around.

Email Tony Casey at tcasey@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Tony Casey on Twitter @TonyCaseyJCP. Like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/tonycaseyjournalist.