Thinking outside the box culvert
Commissioners intrigued at prospect of including Brush Creek trail in sewer project
By Jeff Keeling
It will be a few years to completion if it happens at all, but the possibility of cost-effectively building a recreational trail along several miles of Brush Creek to its confluence with the Watauga River intrigued Johnson City Commissioners who heard about it Monday night.
City Manager Pete Peterson told commissioners that Water and Sewer Director Tom Witherspoon floated the idea while discussing pending replacement of a sewer interceptor line between Broadway Street and a treatment facility on Riverview Road. With that project in the pre-engineering phase, Peterson told the News and Neighbor Thursday, “Tom and I have kicked around, while we’re down there replacing that line, does it make any sense to look at putting in a recreation trail?”
Peterson also updated News and Neighbor Thursday on other trail projects underway and envisioned in Johnson City, including one on the southwest side of the city that ultimately should tie Cherokee School to Willow Springs Park.
The possibility discussed Monday involved a sewer line that is in a wide right of way, mostly following Brush Creek for a distance of slightly less than four miles to near the Watauga River.
Commissioners Jenny Brock, David Tomita and Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin were present Monday and seemed enthused, particularly if the effort could be pulled off in conjunction with another project, thus reducing costs.
Commissioner Jenny Brock asked Peterson whether, if the creek trail became a reality, it could somehow be linked to the Tweetsie Trail where it begins at Legion and Alabama streets. “That’d be cool,” Brock said.
Peterson told commissioners such a linkage would certainly be a possibility. “You’d probably try to do something up Broadway to Orleans and Orleans over to Alabama (a distance of about 1.5 miles),” Peterson said.
Brock and Van Brocklin took a look at the creek Thursday, just upstream of where the project might start. Both applauded the staff’s effort to find opportunities for “two-fers,” as Brock described it.
“You’re doing one project, and you make something additional out of it that provides value to the citizens,” Brock said. She added that a citizen survey released last year showed greenways and trails as a high priority.
“We don’t want to stop doing things for this community, but we have to look for effective and efficient ways to do it,” Brock said.
Van Brocklin agreed, and said such ideas really need to bubble up from city staff.
“We would probably not have the inclination to think things through to that point if city management wasn’t coming forward with those ideas,” he said.
The sewer project is in the early engineering phase, and Peterson cautioned Thursday that a trail may not prove feasible after study. If it is workable, though, it will have germinated due to a cooperative management approach he said is yielding some forward-thinking ideas in an era of tight finances.
“We are truly blessed with a very creative staff that is always thinking about how we can maximize the resources that we have,” Peterson said. “This is a great example of Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Water/Sewer thinking and having input in a project that started out as a sewer line replacement. We have a lot of occasions where we bring in multiple departments to talk about a project to look at the impact on the different departments, but also to see if there are opportunities that a project in one department may present in different departments within the city.”
With heavy public momentum behind the 10-mile Tweetsie Trail and greenways slowly but steadily expanding around Johnson City, Peterson said he could see potential benefit to studying some kind of greenway and “blueway” loop incorporating the Tweetsie Trail, a Brush Creek connector, and the Watauga River itself as the middle connector.
“If you left Alabama Street and went to Elizabethton to Sycamore Shoals, would it be possible to go to Sycamore Shoals, rent a canoe and paddle down to Watauga Road Bridge where it crosses the river, get out, turn your canoe in and come back up this trail section we just talked about and hike back to your car at Alabama Street? It really is intriguing in that it adds to the possibilities of what we can do with our trails and recreation systems.”
On the short-term front, the city should complete a 0.7-mile trail along Antioch Road from Grace Fellowship Church to Willow Springs Park by summer. That project will tie in eventually, Peterson said, with another trail running from Cherokee Elementary School along Lone Oak Road to Greenwood Drive. From there, an easement through Grace Fellowship’s property could tie it in with the Antioch route to the park – a total of about two miles.
Brock said she believes the Tweetsie Trail effort is creating a hunger to accomplish more results through public-private partnerships.
“Partnering with our citizens and businesses to put our resources together, we get a project quicker,” she said. And because there’s sweat and monetary equity from the community in it, there’s a lot of pride.”