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Erwin BMA kicks in funding for new trail

By Richard Rourk

The Town of Erwin brought a proposed trail one step closer to becoming a reality Monday evening. The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to approve the proposed multi-modal trail on the O’Brien Watershed property during the March 22 BMA meeting. The motion to approve the proposed multi-modal trail system came from Vice Mayor Mark Lafever and a second came from Alderman Michael Baker.

The only opposition to the trail came from Alderman Mickey Hatcher. “I’m concerned I did not get enough answers on this issue,” Hatcher said. “I’m not against the trail; I’m just concerned that we have other issues to work on.”

Town of Erwin Mayor Glenn White also struggled with the decision.

“I’ve gone back and forth on this issue,” White said. “I agree with a lot of what Dr. Hatcher has said. I have done a lot of research about this matter even going as far as polling my students who approve of this. I think this could have a positive impact in our town. I’m willing to take this initiative to bring in the tourist dollars.”

Hatcher asked the Town of Erwin City Recorder to share his thoughts about the trail.

“If you view this as a way to bring in adults and children alike to have a day out on the hillside, it’s a good opportunity, Travis Bishop said. “If you are asking if we are looking at a return on that $50,000 dollar investment, I’m going to say no.”

Baker disagreed and stated that the Town of Erwin should see a return on investment for the multi-modal trail.

“I think the downtown merchants are going to band together and market heavily for the bicyclists to spend money in town,” Baker said. “I think that $50,000 out of the millions we are slated to receive from the American Rescue Act would be a good investment for the community.”

According to Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County Chairman Lee Brown, a rough estimate of the cost for the 116-acre multi-modal trail system falls roughly between a half million and a million dollars. However, Unicoi County and the Town of Erwin are only investing $50,000 each. The rest of the trail’s costs will be covered by grants. “I don’t have a hard number, but it would be my guess the total project would cost between a half-million to a million dollars and a majority of that would come from the ARC grant,” Brown said during the Unicoi County Rafting, Tourism and Economic Development Committee on Feb. 10.

The Town of Erwin will now join with the Unicoi County Commission, which has already approved funding of $50,000 for the project during a Feb. 22 meeting by a count of 5-3.

The proposal has seen support come from a variety of places. “We have written a letter of support for this trail,” said Unicoi County Director of Schools John English. “This provides a healthy outlet for the students of Unicoi County. I have received a statement from Janet Ayers of the Ayers Foundation that is also in full support of this trail. I have also heard feedback from our teachers that are excited about the potential of the trail.”

Many supporters spoke in support of funding the trail, but not everyone was excited about the proposed trail coming to town.

Oliver Bailey spoke on his concerns. “I have property surrounding the proposed park that is designated to deer hunt on and having a trail there would end the deer hunting there,” Bailey said. “I’m also concerned that if someone gets injured on my property, I’d be responsible. That’s a big concern.”

Before ending the meeting, the BMA heard from the Unicoi County EMS.

“We have had 2,288 calls this year,” said Unicoi County EMS Executive Director Adam Copas. “We have an average call time that is under 10 minutes, and we hope we have your support in the future. Our goal for the upcoming year is to purchase the property we are currently renting, which would result in annual savings of $15,000.”

The Town of Erwin BMA is scheduled to meet again on April 12.