The Mountain Goat Trail runs along the historic "Mountain Goat" rail line, which began in the 1850s. Engineer A.E. Barney joined forces with investors headed by Samuel Tracy to build a railroad from Cowan, Tenn., to what is now Sewanee, Tenn., according to www.mountaingoattrail.org. Around 1850 Leslie Kennedy, an experienced Pennsylvania coal miner, teamed with Barney and Tracy to build a railroad and mine for coal. The first coal was delivered in 1856, and the line was extended to Tracy City in 1858. It operated until 1985 and was extended to Coalmont and Palmer. Much of the line is still intact and undeveloped, officials say. The Monteagle downtown corridor project will link the trail through town.
MONTEAGLE, Tenn. -- Monteagle's downtown corridor project, part of an ongoing effort to extend a pedestrian/bicycle trail from Cowan, Tenn., in Franklin County to Palmer, Tenn., in Grundy County, kicked off over the last couple of weeks with road work and striping along the town's main drag.
The four lanes on Main Street and Dixie Lee Avenue were reduced to two with a central turn lane almost all the way through town, converting the outside lane into a bike lane with a buffer near the curb. Bike lane signs are on the way, according to Monteagle Mayor Marilyn Campbell-Nixon.
The project is aimed at improving pedestrian and bicycle safety and dressing up Main Street with access to the town's businesses, school and city offices, Campbell-Nixon said.
As a part of the Mountain Goat Trail project, the town's portion will carry the path across Interstate 24 to the intersection where U.S. Highway 41 turns toward Tracy City, officials said. About a half mile of pedestrian walkway already lies between Main and College streets.
Mountain Goat Trail project funding totals $782,560 in state enhancement grants added to a 20 percent local match of about $200,000, while the downtown corridor plan tallies $122,413 for the city, according to City Recorder Debbie Taylor.
The mayor says she hopes the town's part of the project boosts businesses, improves recreational opportunities for residents and encourages visitors to get out of their cars and stay a while.
"This gives a better quality of life to our residents and to our businesses," Campbell-Nixon said, noting that much of the town's sales tax revenue is generated by visitors.
Once the state approves plans, "then we will be putting in sidewalks and lighting," she said.
The mayor praised work that Monteagle Auto Parts and the WilcoHess Travel Plaza did on their sections of Main Street, and she said other businesses are showing interest in improvements.
Ron Rockman, general manager at the WilcoHess Travel Plaza at exit 135 since September, said the company's intent was to "bring [sidewalk work] down to the exit ramp."
The store's sidewalk begins within a few yards of the southernmost end of the town's I-24 interchanges.
"It's to enhance Monteagle and enhance our own location, as well," Rockman said. "If you can tie them together, then you become a civic partner.
"We want to do our part to make the town look as good as possible. And the town looks great; the new sidewalks, the bike lane," he said.
Monteagle resident Sharon Gilliam said she already feels safer with the new bike lanes as a traffic buffer to the sidewalks she uses every day.
"I love it; everybody does," she said as she strode along Dixie Lee Avenue.
Well, maybe not everybody.
Campbell-Nixon said a number of residents have "questions and concerns" about going from four lanes to two, the impact on traffic flow, and how driving and insurance rules apply to cyclists.
Police Chief Virgil McNeece said traffic slowed "considerably" with the redesign despite the fact that the speed limit remains 35 mph.
"When it was four-lane, it was like a race track and they could just get in the 'hammer' lane and go," McNeece said. "It's a complete turnaround as far as safety's concerned."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Subscribe to his posts at facebook.com/ben.benton1 and follow him at twitter.com/BenBenton on Twitter.