A rails-to-trails conversion project located in South East Tennessee is a terrific example of how successful intergovernmental relations can benefit multiple communities in a region. Located along Highway 307 and running down to Highway 39 in McMinn County, the Eureka Trail is a multi-government, multi-phase project that will connect the City of Athens and the Town of Englewood.
Designed by engineering students from the University of Tennessee, Eureka Trail is situated on top of an historic railroad bed that has been abandoned since 2009. The trail is expected to stretch out to 7 miles once complete. Residents are currently enjoying the 4.6 miles that have already been converted; residents like John and Becky McGrew a couple in their 70s who now cycle the trail a few times a week for better health.
Created by Collaboration
Named for the Eureka Cotton Mill that once operated at the Englewood trail head, the project is made possible through the collaborative efforts of the McMinn County Government, the City of Athens, and the Town of Englewood. The interlocal agreement between the entities establishes a committee for the maintenance, operation, and expansion of the trail.
The project has received funding from the City of Athens and McMinn County, as well as grants and donations from the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Marshall University, Project Diabetes, and the Lyndhurst Foundation, a private non-profit organization based in Chattanooga and facilitated by the local Athens Parks Foundation.
Contributions from the local Kiwanis Club and private citizen donations have also been used to help fund and enhance features on the trail, such as a bridge over a creek, its railings and surfacing on the trail. In all, there are 6 government entities from the federal, state, and local levels involved in making Eureka Trail a success, including both Senators of the State of Tennessee.
The Eureka Trail is designed to help citizens enjoy walking, running, and bicycling. If the surface is improved to a hard surface, rollerblading and skateboarding will be approved uses as well. Horseback riding is allowed on specific days of the week, subject to the condition of the trail surface.
The trail also features the “Health Triangle,” a convenient half-mile section designed for those with disabilities or who may just be easing into a new exercise routine. Working in conjunction with the State of Tennessee’s Project Diabetes, the Health Triangle includes educational signs on how to stay fit and make better dietary decisions.
Local feedback has been tremendously positive. According to Parks Director Austin Fesmire, initial naysayers of the project have shared that Eureka Trail is a great use of public funds. One local couple recently logged their 500th mile on the trail!
In 2016, the National Coalition of Recreational Trails awarded Eureka Trail with the Recreational Trails Program Achievement Award for Engaging Public-Sector Partners This award was granted for exemplary engagement and garnering of support from public-sector officials including local, state, and federal elected officials.