RTP funding enabled the acquisition of 4.3 miles of abandoned CSX rail line from Athens to Englewood, which has since been developed as a multiuse trail.
The RTP-funded Eureka Trail located in Athens and McMinn County, TN is a near perfect example of what the grant program was intended to accomplish. The Eureka Trail is a 4.8-mile multi-phase, multi-government rails-to-trails conversion supported in part by private foundations and individual donors.
In 2011 McMinn County authorized a feasibility study of the conversion and it was described as a “home run” for Athens and McMinn County. A multi-government committee was developed with the city of Athens, McMinn County and town of Englewood resulting in an inter-local agreement for maintenance, operations and expansion. Citizen concerns were addressed and the purchase of the property moved forward using RTP funds. Today the Eureka Trail stands as a testament to what the RTP is all about and we are proud to be able to show that we qualify in every category.
The Eureka Trail when completed is designed to link the city of Athens and the Town of Englewood, TN. The RTP purchased 4.8 miles toward Englewood as phase I and our phase II application will be turned in to the state on April 22. A local property owner donated land adjacent to the Eureka Trail that will allow Athens access to a neighborhood and to implement an urban trail system to downtown and relative areas of Athens as designed by the University of Tennessee.
Design and construction
When acquired the Eureka trail property was in many areas unpassable with logs, high grass and weeds being the norm. The surface was railroad ballast that was difficult to walk on and extremely difficult if not impossible to ride a bike or horseback on. Volunteer days were held in conjunction with Comcast Cares days and over 100 volunteers participated.
Once the Eureka Trail was passable private donations were secured for surfacing. Safety concerns were addressed by eliminating illegal motorized vehicles and placing proper signage at road crossings. The wildlife habitat was enhanced with deer, turkey and various other species now using the trail as a passage to water sources.
Partnering with the University of Tennessee senior engineering class, the Eureka Trail trestles were evaluated and designed as foot bridges. Presentations were made to local civic clubs on the cost analysis and $10,000 was donated by the Kiwanis club for the bridge work. The UT spring of 2016 class also took on the task of designing our trailhead and urban routes that will allow people to walk safely from neighborhoods to the Eureka Trail.
The Eureka Trail is managed with a multi-government agreement between Athens, McMinn County and Englewood. The Athens Parks Foundation serves as the private non-profit that facilitates the coordination of private donors. McMinn Living Well and the McMinn Health Council along with the YMCA are also trail partners. The state of Tennessee Project Diabetes fund is a trail sponsor providing $20,000 and the Appalachian Grant administered by Marshall University is also a monetary sponsor. The Southern Appalachian Back Country Horsemen provide trail maintenance as part of our agreement. We have leveraged our RTP purchase for volunteer work and over $45,000 in private donations.
Our community outreach partners include Comcast through Comcast Cares days, Tennessee Wesleyan College through the servant leadership program, the University of Tennessee through the experience learning program, and a host of volunteers that show up whenever a work day is announced. TWC provides student volunteers for work days throughout the school year and like UT has incorporated the trail work as part of the school learning process. TWC has also provided interns to work on trail development and planning. During our Comcast Cares Day program over 100 volunteers showed up surpassing most of the other Comcast projects in larger cities.
Trail use and promotion
The Eureka Trail development has been featured on a national video produced by the YMCA and on a video produced by the University of Tennessee detailing the experience learning program by the senior engineering students. We have also developed personalized trail apps and feature our trail on the City of Athens website.
The Chattanooga News Free Press used our RTP project to highlight other projects across the region and the article was picked up by the wire services and reprinted in other papers. Multiple-Use Management and Corridor Sharing The Eureka Trail planning committee met with all potential users of the trail and recommended that our trail be available for use by horseback riders, bicyclist, and pedestrians.
It is important to note that our horse clubs were initial strong proponents and were very politically active on a local level to make the trail a reality. All groups continue to work together and are involved on design decisions and work days. Items that initially seemed to be issues were solved with cooperation and placed in a written agreement.
The Eureka Trail in conjunction with the State of Tennessee Project Diabetes created the Health Triangle at the Eureka Trail catering to people with disabilities including diabetes, obesity and poor eating habits. A series of large “pedestrian billboards” were developed for the half mile triangle which serves as a smaller walking area at the trail head. Fourteen billboards were placed along the triangle with information about diabetes, good food choices, and high blood pressure symptoms and like.
This section was specifically designed for individuals who wanted to get started walking or who had disabilities that prevented them from going out too far on the trail. The city of Athens traveled extensively to review other trail surfaces and laid numerous courses of surface gravel as test strips from different quarries until the best surface for all users was found and a quarry was selected. This part of the Eureka Trail is unique and our hope is that this section will encourage people to use the trail who did not think they could and to inform people about healthy living.
The Eureka Trail RTP involves 6 government entities including the City of Athens, TN, the Town of Englewood, TN, McMinn County, TN, the State of Tennessee, and two congressmen. In order for this project to have a chance of passing on the local level, several prominent politicians stepped forward in support. In doing so they indicated that while this was not currently the most popular thing to do it was as they put it “the right thing to do.”
On the state level Bob Richards with the Department of Environment and Conservation assisted with the planning document and made numerous three hour trips from Nashville for public meetings and to meet with local politicians. Current Athens Mayor Ann Davis along with council members Bo Perkinson and Yvonne Raper are vocal supporters of the trail and remain steadfast.