Tweetsie Historic Trail Association: Tweetsie Trail News: I Don't Want No Stinkin' Tweetsie Trail!

Monday, December 12
I Don't Want No Stinkin' Tweetsie Trail!



Why we think the Tweetsie Trail isn’t the worst idea that anybody ever had (and may actually be a pretty good one) 

 

Updated 8-26-2012

Charge:  History shows that property values go up along rail trails.  I don’t want to pay more property taxes.

Reply:  True, property values do go up.   This is a mixed blessing, because it's proof that rail trails improve their communities.  Also, sellers can expect to receive more for their land and homes.  But this is a real problem, particularly for farmers (especially those wishing to pass the land and vocation to their heirs) and for people on a fixed income.  We advocate a stand-still agreement in which property taxes are fixed for current landowners, and only increase when the property changes hands.  We think this is a fair approach, and urge the governments involved to utilize it.

Charge:  I don’t want people traipsing through my yard.  It destroys my privacy and creates opportunities for vandalism, littering, and theft.

Reply:  Of course we want lots of people to use the trail; that's what it's for.  But there will be a loss of privacy.  Where this is a concern, we strongly urge that privacy screens such as fences and hedges be built by the Trail Authority.  But fears of vandalism and other ill effects are mostly unfounded.  Trail users are very respectful of trail neighbors, and behave themselves as well-mannered guests: see  http://atfiles.org/files/pdf/safecomm.pdf.  We're not going to claim that there won't be problems, but judicious police patrols are necessary in any park and will keep them to a minimum.  And we should point out that none of the homes and businesses along the trail are inaccessible now; anyone looking for mischief today can find it.  Frankly, we don’t see much difference between a vacant rail line and a rail trail in this respect.

Charge:  Everyone keeps bringing up the Virginia Creeper Trail.  The Tweetsie is no Virginia Creeper.

Reply:  We agree!  They are very different in just about every respect other than originating as rail lines.  The Creeper is a major tourist attraction; the Tweetsie will be a modest draw, if that.  The Creeper runs through beautiful wilderness and rural communities, and much of it follows a gorgeous trout stream; the Tweetsie’s path, to be kind, has some pretty spots, but for much of its length it is an urban trail.  Some of it is downright unsightly unless you like kudzu and parking lots.  But, in spite of what you may have heard in some poorly-thought-out reports, it was not conceived as another Creeper, and its supporters certainly don’t think of it that way.  It is a semi-urban linear park, connecting Johnson City and Elizabethton and points in between.  It will be a great place to get some fresh air and exercise and enjoy the out-of-doors; in this respect, its easy accessibility and inherent safety are major points in its favor.  It will even be a great way for bike commuters to travel to work or the grocery store or to school (especially in Elizabethton).  Don’t think of it as a destination for tourists; think of it as a park for the people who live nearby, with visitors very welcome.

Charge:  This means the end of any possibility of rail service for Elizabethton.

Answer:  Wrong! As a matter of fact, this is the only way to preserve even the possibility of rail service in the future.   There were no buyers for the line; the previous owner, Genessee and Wyoming, tried but couldn't sell it.  G&W even filed notice of abandonment; if that had happened – and the federal government routinely grants abandonments - the line would have been gone forever.  The only hope is to preserve the right-of-way through rail banking, which is exactly what the Tweetsie Trail does.  This is a case of “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”  Many far-thinking people believe that rail service will be viable some day, but that is far off in the future.  We can preserve the line and make good use of it as a trail until our children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren need it as a railroad again.  We do our descendants a great service by keeping the Tweetsie alive, even though it will be in suspended animation. 

Charge:  I don’t want to pay more taxes for something I won’t get any benefit from, like I would from a new road or repairs to water lines.

Answer:  Who does?  But who says you will?  Every government sets priorities and spends its money where it thinks its constituents will get the most benefit.  We think that parks are one of a community’s best investments because they directly improve the quality of life.  And a park like the Tweetsie Trail, which is all about exercise, helps create a healthier community.  You may choose not to use it – but why not?  All you have to lose is a few extra pounds, at the expense of better muscle tone and better health.  That’s a pretty good bargain!  Bike commuters mean less wear and tear on roads and fewer exhaust gases in the air.  Add in less traffic on the roads in your neighborhood, and it gets better yet.  Studies of rail trails prove that operational costs are low.  Much of the maintenance is done with practically-free prison labor, and the materials needed – mostly fine gravel for an unpaved trail, or asphalt if it's paved – are inexpensive.  Something else – although no one thinks that the Tweetsie is going to be a major economic boon, there will be some economic benefit.  The extra bikes and walking shoes and running shorts and sports drinks that get sold generate sales tax revenues that help offset the cost.  We’ll be the first to admit that it’s very hard to measure such things, and it’s best to assume that the extra taxes won’t completely offset the costs, but looking at the cost without considering the benefits, particularly the intangible ones, is no way to measure the value of any community asset. 

Charge:  Hasn’t anybody noticed that the economy isn't the greatest?  We ought to be cutting expenses, not adding more.  And besides, we’ve got a lot more important things to spend our money on.

Answer:  The old advice not to be penny wise and pound foolish applies.  Once the Tweetsie is gone, it’s gone for good.  We have one chance to preserve it, and that’s right now.  Whether one sees its value primarily as saving a bit of history, or providing a top-notch venue for exercise, or an alternative to road traffic between Johnson City and Elizabethton, or a tourist draw, or rail-banking the line for future use – and it is all of those things – we do it now or never.  Furthermore, there will be no rush to develop the trail, for, yes, times are tough, and there are competing priorities for our money.  The crucial thing is to preserve the line; the rest will follow in due time.  We hope that’s sooner rather than later – but we are realists, and we know that the cities and counties have limited resources and must prioritize.