MONTEAGLE, Tenn. — What was once a 10-minute drive between Monteagle, Tenn., and the neighboring town of Sewanee soon will be a leisurely, two-hour walk.
That's thanks to the third leg of the Mountain Goat Trail project -- the Monteagle-Sewanee segment -- that now crosses the city limits in western Monteagle, linking the two towns with a paved path for pedestrians and cyclists.
In recent days, asphalt work was completed and work continued on a couple of wooden bridges on the three-mile stretch of the trail from State Route 156 in Franklin County to a Dollar General store near Interstate 24. Officials say a formal opening is planned for January.
"It's going to make for a better quality of life -- greener, healthier," said Monteagle Mayor Marilyn Campbell Rodman, who noted that the trail also might boost tourism.
"It's really exciting, and we're just really blessed," Rodman said.
The Mountain Goat Trail is a rail-to-trail project to convert 35 to 40 miles of the abandoned Mountain Goat Railroad right-of-way into a multiuse recreational corridor in Grundy and Franklin counties. Plans trace a path from Cowan in Franklin County to Palmer in Grundy County, passing through Sewanee, Monteagle, Tracy City, Coalmont and Gruetli-Laager along the way.
Daily walker, Amy Byers, 32, says she looks forward to checking out the new section of the trail and believes it will get lots of use.
"I usually walk about nine miles a day. It'll be good for all the bikers coming from Sewanee and the people who walk," the lifelong Monteagle resident said as she strode briskly along Monteagle's serpentine walking path. That path, a part of the city's downtown enhancement project, isn't a part of the Mountain Goat Trail, but the two will nearly touch when future legs of the trail are built.
Byers pointed out that annual overnight biking and running events that pass through the area will be safer since participants can move off the busy, narrow Highway 41 to the new path for a few miles. The main road through Monteagle already has bicycle lanes on each side.
Motorists traveling between Monteagle and Sewanee will see the wide, newly-paved path leading west from the Dollar General parking lot. From there the path leads to the already completed segment that ends at Highway 156, just over the Franklin County line.
A user starting at the Sewanee end, about one-quarter mile off of Highway 41, will wind through the woods edging out to the main highway after passing behind Pearl's Foggy Mountain Cafe. Then the path skirts the highway before ducking back through the trees.
The trail winds invitingly along the road until crossing over Highway 41 at Mooney's Market & Emporium, where owner Joan Thomas hopes trail users will stop to shop or grab a drink. The market is about halfway between Monteagle and Sewanee and has outdoor seating near the new trail.
"I can't wait to get on it (the trail) myself," Thomas said.
Coworker Connie Keetle chimed in that she plans to start biking to work.
Meanwhile, out front, trail design firm Farmer Morgan LLC's representative Will Hargrove was placing construction flags in the ground last week to show workers where the asphalt goes.
"Once they get that done, we'll come back and seed the edges to plant grass, there's a little bit of striping and there's some signage to do," Hargrove said.
Patrick Dean, grant writer for the Mountain Goat Trail Association, and association president Janice Thomas, say the newest segment opens the trail to a commercial area for the first time.
A fun run between the two towns is planned for spring on the completed segments to introduce more people to the trail, Thomas said.
Dean said the new segment is the most important yet because it links communities.
"When we link to the current paved section, we'll have about five miles of paved trails that will connect the two towns so that somebody in Sewanee can get on their bike and ride to the Piggly Wiggly in Monteagle," Dean said.
Farmer Morgan's Hargrove said that next short section -- from the Dollar General to a pedestrian crossing and on to the Piggly Wiggly store -- is part of the next phase of the trail he said has been playfully dubbed "the dig to the Pig."
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at email@example.com or twitter.com/BenBenton or www.facebook.com/ben.benton1 or 423-757-6569.